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Critics Say GOP Education Reform Would Hurt Poor and Black Students

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By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As the Republican-led Congress prepares to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), civil rights groups, educators and student advocates fear that current proposals leave many poor and Black children behind.

According to analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington, D.C. –based progressive think tank, the bill submitted by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), eliminates accountability for low-performing schools, lowers academic standards, and abolishes targeted, state-level graduation goals for students of color.

A White House brief on the ESEA reauthorization bills said that the proposal being considered in the House of Representatives will cap spending on the ESEA for the next six years at $800 million lower than it was in 2012, eliminates “guarantees that education funding reaches classroom,” and “some especially high-poverty school districts would see cuts as large as 74 percent.”

In her weekly column, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, said no ESEA bill would be better than the one now making its way through Congress.

She wrote, “H.R. 5 also removes strong accountability provisions required to make sure the children who need help most will actually be helped. It is morally indefensible and extraordinarily expensive that we have 14.7 million poor children in our country – 6.5 million of them living at less than half the poverty level. All of these poor children exceed the combined residents in all 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a network of more than 200 national research and advocacy groups, said that the ESEA reauthorization proposals currently pending in Congress would strip millions of students and their parents of the protections and resources that have helped them to hold their schools accountable for equitable funding and treatment.

“For the students we represent, students of color, students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students, a strong ESEA is vital to ensuring that states and school districts are living up to their obligation to provide a quality education for all on an equal basis not just for the most privileged or wealthy,” said Henderson.

On a recent call with reporters, Henderson said that the coalition of 34 national civil rights and education groups supported annual statewide assessments to evaluate student progress, transparency of the test results and additional data that empowers parents to advocate on behalf of their children.

Chanelle Hardy, the executive director and senior vice president for policy at the National Urban League, said that the legacy of the Black community’s commitment to education stems from the days of slavery when Blacks learned to read in secret and at risk to their own lives.

“This is not a conversation about how we need to convince our community to care about achievement,” said Hardy. “This is about our nation’s commitment to a system of education that prepares every child for college work and life. This is a fundamental civil rights principle and a fundamental principle of justice.”

William Hayes, the principal at Franklin D. Roosevelt Academy in the Glenville community of Cleveland, Ohio, also expressed concerns about the Republican proposals for reforming the ESEA, which was last updated more than a decade ago through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) under President George W. Bush.

“This vote is about equity and accountability, yet everyday my students face the brutal reality that they live in a society that has not achieved its promise for a more equitable distribution of outcomes and opportunities,” said Hayes.

Hayes said that 98 percent of the students at his school are African American, 100 percent qualify for free lunch and 28 percent receive special education services.

One of Cleveland’s wealthiest subdivisions borders Glenville to the north and the city’s cultural center with museums, botanical gardens and the Cleveland Institute of Music to the south, Hayes said. The Cleveland Clinic, perennially ranked by as one of the best hospitals in the nation, is just a 15-minute walk to the east of Glenville.

“Surrounded by so much prosperity and bright images of the American Dream, my students could easily be forgotten, were it not for our federal government ensuring that communities remain accountable,” added Hayes.

Hardy said that civil rights groups were extremely concerned about resource equity and ensuring that low-income students at majority-minority schools have access to early childhood education and high quality teachers.

Researchers at CAP found that school districts spent $733 less at schools that were 90 percent minority compared to schools that were 90 percent White. That money could be spent on veteran teachers, school counselors and laptop computers.

“It’s no secret that more than 50 years after Brown our communities and schools are still very much segregated however the concentration of poverty has become more exacerbated as affluent families of color have left our communities to go elsewhere,” said Hayes.

Nancy Zirkin, the executive vice president of the Leadership Conference, said that no one can deny that NCLB has room for improvement, “but the proposals in front of Congress now throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Zirkin explained, “These proposals bend over backwards to accommodate state and local entities that have both failed our children and avoided any real accountability for their failures.”

NCLB was characterized by high stakes testing that led some school districts to trim physical education and arts programs to make room for more rigorous reading and math course work. Educators railed against “teaching to the test” and questioned the need for multiple assessments throughout the school year.

Hayes said that he wasn’t naïve to the unintended consequences of the “accountability movement” that came with NCLB, including the narrowing of the academic curriculum and the over-testing of students linked to controversial teacher evaluations, but he still didn’t believe the shortcomings of the law warranted a complete hands-off approach from the federal government.

Hayes said he was frustrated at the thought of a federal government willing to step away without stepping back to the table to help to fix NCLB.

Hayes added: “As a school leader I can’t imagine a time where my administrative team could ever see a problem with our students and say to teachers, ‘It didn’t work so I’m just going to let you figure it out by yourselves.’”

But in the eyes of some educators and civil rights leaders that’s exactly what the Republican proposals do.

“We can’t go back to a time when these schools were ignored,” said Zirkin.

Hardy agreed.

“We can’t assume that we have good information on student achievement based on socio-demographic factors,” said Hardy. “We have to do our part with our federal tax dollars to concentrate those resources where they need to be.”

Black Women Endure Menopause Longest

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By Elaina Johnson
Special to the NNPA from Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Sarah Finney, 57, said she gets hot flashes throughout her body at least once an hour. She even wakes up in the night with so much perspiration that she looks like she just left working out at a gym, she said.

“Hot flashes are very annoying,” said Finney, a married mother of two who declined to use her real name. “A surge of heat goes through my body, sometimes accompanied by nausea. As the energy builds, I begin to sweat from my hair, neck, chest and underarms.”

Finney, a vegetarian, said she hoped eating healthy and her intense daily routines as a marathon runner would alleviate the symptoms, but no luck.

Finney, who lives in Alexandria, Va., is experiencing the results of menopause, a natural decline in reproductive hormones that affects millions of woman annually when they reach their 40s or 50s.

For women going through menopause, just one day of hot flashes can be too much. Imagine 14 years. A new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a medical journal of the American Medical Association, found that women could experience hot flashes for up to 14 years, and that African-American women like Finney typically experience the symptoms longer.

Finney has been going through it for 10 years.

The 17-year study of 1,449 women across the U.S. found that while on average, the women endured the symptoms for about seven and a half years, Black and Hispanic women experience hot flashes for significantly longer than White or Asian women. The median was 10 years for African Americans, nearly nine years for Hispanics, six and a half years for White women, about five and a half years for Chinese and nearly five years for Japanese.

“This is the only study that has looked at a very diverse population, ”said Dr. Ranit Mishori, associate professor of Family Medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“No one knows for sure why African-American women are at risk for a longer duration of hot flashes. There could be a relationship between hormone levels, genetic differences, body mass index, the number of children you have or the age you began having children.”

Though the study’s results may not give the quick relief women hoped for, but it allows doctors and medical professional to give patients realistic expectations and find ways to help alleviate the hot flashes.

“This is not a fun thing for the doctor or the patient to realize,” Mishori said. “However, there are ways to manage the symptoms including hormone replacement therapy.”

Hormone replacement therapy is medication containing female hormones to replace the ones the woman’s body no longer makes after menopause.

This method can be a good choice for certain women, depending on their health risk, Mishori said. Women who consume estrogen pills are alleviated from hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, she said.

The down side is that hormone therapy has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease for some women.

Lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, may help some women, health officials said, and there are also non-hormonal medication and supplements that can help. These things may not shorten the duration of hot flashes, but it may lessen the affect and intensity of them.

If the symptoms are unbearable, health officials suggest you consult with your doctor.

Finney said she is resigned to the day-to-day struggle with the condition.

“Menopause is just something we have to deal with as women,” she said. “We all must continue to move forward. This is a part of life.”

Report: Blacks Disproportionately Affected by Hunger

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

African-Americans continue to suffer disproportionately high rates of hunger and poverty despite the growing economy, according to an analysis released Friday by a Christian-based citizens group working to end hunger.

The Bread for the World report says the shortage of good, stable jobs and the impact of mass incarceration on the community exacerbates the situation.

“As African-Americans, we still suffer from some of the highest rates of hunger and poverty in the country despite the growth of our country’s economy since 2008,” said Eric Mitchell, the organization’s director of government relations. “The lack of jobs that pay fair wages is preventing people of color from moving out of poverty and the recession.”

According to the most recent data, the median income for African-Americans in 2013 was $24,864, significantly lower than the median for all Americans, the analysis found. Poverty affected nearly three out of 10 African-Americans or nearly twice the average rate for the general population. The same rates hold in terms of their ability to feed their families.

Mitchell said the problem is worsened by the effects of mass incarceration.

“Incarceration for non-violent criminal offenses aggravates the situation for black people in America since these laws, time and again, put people of color behind bars at a higher rate than white people for the same offense,” he said.

African-Americans constitute nearly half of the total 2.3 million prison population in the country. Many states deny returning citizens access to such programs as SNAP, even while they look for work. For those who land a job, their yearly earnings are reduced by as much as 40 percent, Bread for the World reports.

“The best way to combat hunger and poverty in the African-American community is through jobs that pay fair wages, strong safety-net programs, and by ensuring laws are in place to protect people and not further marginalize them from society,” Mitchell said.

Reversing Course, US to Aid Nigeria in Boko Haram Fight

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) – After a published plea from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for U.S. combat troops in the fight against Boko Haram, U.S. Africa Command appears ready to sweep aside its hesitation and jump in with both feet.

The previous position held that advanced weapons could not be provided because of troubling allegations of human rights violations by Nigeria’s security forces. There also appeared to be a lack of political will to defeat Boko Haram, a senior U.S. official told the BBC.

Now, however, Africa Command is “ready to assist in whatever way [Nigeria] sees as being practical,” Lt. Gen. Steven A. Hummer, deputy to the commander of military operations, was quoted as saying.

Counterterrorism exercises, under the name “Operation Flintlock,” are currently underway in Chad, with drills in Niger, Cameroon and Tunisia. The war games are intended to help African militaries bolster their counterterrorism skills.

However, the coordinated actions by Niger and Chad have elicited warnings from Boko Haram leaders. They threaten to send suicide bombers if troops are deployed, stating, “If you insist on continuing the aggression and the coalition with the government of Chad, then we give you glad tidings that the land of Niger is easier than the land of Nigeria, and moving the war to the depth of your cities will be the first reaction toward any aggression that occurs after this statement,” according to a transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.

A multinational force to fight Boko Haram is expected to be deployed in coming weeks. Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin initially pledged to help Nigeria. This week, Burundi and Central African Republic also agreed to contribute troops to fight the militant group.

Also this week, leaders in Central Africa said that 10 member states had agreed to contribute most of the $100 million needed to combat Boko Haram. They did not state how much had been raised or how much remains to be raised, despite calling for the creation of an emergency fund to bridge the difference, according to reporters with the Associated Press.

The death toll from a suicide bomber’s attack on a bus station in the northeast city of Damaturu now stands at 13, with 26 injured. The attacker was reported to be a female.

Sierra Leone Promises Probe Into Missing Ebola Funds

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

(GIN) — A full investigation will be conducted into multiple failures of accountability regarding the use of $5 million in funds sent for the fight against Ebola, the government of Sierra Leone has pledged.

An internal audit found that nearly one-third of the money received to fight Ebola was spent without providing receipts and invoices to justify the spending.

In their report released late last week, the auditors cited “inadequate controls” over the disbursement of funds, hazard payments being made to hospitals with no proof the money was actually going to the health workers on the frontline and, in some cases, a “complete disregard for the law” in procurement.

The $5.75 million in funds without spending documentation represents about a third of the total $19.32 million under review. The money came primarily from institutions and individuals donating from mostly within Sierra Leone and from tax revenue.

These undocumented losses may have slowed the country’s emergency response to the Ebola outbreak and may have led to unnecessary loss of life, the authors of a detailed report on the crisis said.

In an extensive report by The Guardian newspaper, a spot review found that army and police personnel were included on a list of workers to receive hazard money “even though funds had been transferred to both forces to meet the deployment of their officers.”

In the town of Makeni, where workers in one hospital went on strike because they had not received hazard payments, concerns were that some money was diverted to nonexistent ghost workers.

One member of parliament was singled out in the report when it appeared that payments were made to him to carry out sensitization programs, even though an amount had earlier been paid to all seating MPs.

The head of the Health for All Coalition has also been asked to explain himself after checks were made out to him personally instead of to his organization. The Ministry of Health has since disputed the amount of money allocated to the coalition and promised to hand over “all documentary evidence” to the auditors, who said this case was of the “utmost concern.”

In an official press release, the president promised to “ensure full accountability” and warned that anyone found guilty of misusing Ebola funds would face the full force of the law.

The report by Sierra Leone’s auditor general covered the months of May through October 2014, after which the Ebola response was handed over to the Defense Ministry. The auditors looked at donations received directly by the government to fight Ebola.

“It is clear from our audit conducted that there continue to be lapses in the financial management system in Sierra Leone, and these have ultimately resulted in the loss of funds and a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector,” the report stated.

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BVN National News Wire