President Barack Obama in the coming weeks is expected to unveil a new package aimed at boosting job creation. And a lot of advocates are hoping that he will include new money to help stave off teacher layoffs, plus funding to help schools revamp their aging facilities.Obama gave those folks a reason to be optimistic this morning, when he talked about education in an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a nationally syndicated radio program.You can read the whole transcript here, but here are a few relevant snippets:PRESIDENT OBAMA: ... So we don't have magic bullets, but what we do have, I think, is the capacity to do some things right now that would make a big difference ...TOM JOYNER: Like?OBAMA: For example, putting people to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools all across America. A big chunk of the loss of employment was in the construction industry. Well, the fact of the matter is that although the housing market is going to take some time to recover, we've got a lot of stuff that needs to get done. There are schools all across the country that right now you could put people to work fixing up. There are roads and bridges right now that need to be improved.And so we've called for the creation of a special fund that can leverage not only public dollars but also private dollars to start getting those projects moving. So that's an example.We've got the capacity right now to help local school districts make sure that they're not laying off more teachers. We haven't been as aggressive as we need to, both at the state and federal level.JOYNER:... [W]hen you come next week with your jobs plan, how are you going to get it passed when everybody in the Republican Party seems to say no to everything you say yes to?OBAMA: Well, look, this has been a problem for two and a half years now, but despite that fact, we've been able to get health care passed. Despite that fact, we've been able to make sure that we put more money into the Pell Grant program. ...Will the president try to put some money where his mouth is? That's unclear for now. A White House spokeswoman said details of the package are still under wraps.But, if Obama does include new money for education in his jobs package, it's going to face an uphill battle in Congress. Remember, funding for school construction was a major sticking point in the original stimulus, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Also, it was relatively easy for Obama to get some $100 billion for K-12 in the stimulus back in 2009, but he had a very tough time getting Congress to create the Education Jobs Fund last year—back when Democrats had healthy majorities in both chambers. And that was funded at just $10 billion.Given that the federal government has been brought to the brink of a shutdown—and nearly defaulted on its debt—over spending issues this year, it's hard to imagine the president getting a lot of support from congressional Republicans for more money for edujobs or construction. Just proposing the funding could spark a bloody fight, with GOP lawmakers arguing that the original stimulus hasn't spurred much change in education.But that's not to say folks in K-12 Land aren't going to make their case. For instance, check out the 21st Century Schools Funds' take on how school construction funding could boost the overall economy.
“Sailors with toothaches sink submarines.” --Dr. Steve Davis, interim commissioner, Ky. Dept. of Public Health
By Al Smith
While state and local leaders hail the importance of the ongoing $900 million expansion at the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center, a lower-key visit to the UK College of Dentistry last week should not go unnoticed. It promised the long-term possibility of preventive health care that may keep thousands of young East Kentuckians from ever being patients at the hospital.
The visitors were Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife Jane. Joined by the new president of UK, Eli Capilouto, who is a dentist and public health professional, and Sharon Turner, the dean of the dental school, Beshear announced the second phase of his initiative to cut the horrific rate of cavities in the teeth of the state’s children.
A new pilot program called Smiling Schools will provide preventive oral health services for 25,000 children in Appalachian Kentucky. The children will receive protective tooth varnish in a program funded through a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $250,000 from the state General Fund.
A child with a toothache, and there are thousands of them, is too distracted to learn, says Jane Beshear. The failure to master class lessons in early years is the beginning of failure to keep up in the work force in later life, she added.
Staggering statistics about Kentucky kids’ poor oral health were brought to the governor’s attention when he was running for office four years ago, Beshear said. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at UK sent the Beshears an assessment of the state’s dental health showing that half of Kentucky’s children had decay in their baby teeth; and nearly half of children ages 2,3, and 4 had untreated dental problems. This is more than twice the national average, Beshear said last week.
Untreated, these cavities help bring on the problems in later life that are associated with Kentucky being one of the unhealthiest of the states, a leader in diseases that send patients to that $900 million hospital — heart disease, cancer, including a dramatically higher incidence of deadly pancreatic cancer, pre-term birth, obesity, stroke and diabetes.
Kentucky youths who seek to join the military and present a mouth full of cavities and gaps where teeth had been are turned away in high numbers, says Dr. Steve Davis, the state’s interim commissioner of public health. The Navy, particularly, takes seriously the warning that a sailor stricken by a toothache in the depths of the sea could mishandle a task on a sub and send the craft plunging to the bottom.
Over the course of the 2011-12 school year, two protective fluoride varnish treatments and educational materials for healthy dental practices will be offered to children in the first through the fifth grades at selected schools in 16 Appalachian Kentucky counties: Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Elliott, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Lee, Magoffin, Menifee, Owsley, Perry, Russell and Wolfe.
The UK dental school will examine a sampling of the children before and after the varnish treatments to assess the effectiveness of the program. Dr. Rankin Skinner, a Clark County dentist in private practice, predicts a very positive outcome, based on a project that he started and served as a pilot for the latest effort. Results of three years of treatment of 3,000 children in Clark County showed decay rates fell from 50 percent to 14.5 percent, Skinner reported at the meeting at UK last week. Davis said the return on the dollars invested in the low-cost varnish is very favorable. The Clark program was financed by the Clark County Community Foundation. The impetus for it was a Christmastime front-page story in The New York Times which was inspired by Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism. The Times story helped inspire a show, “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains,” on the ABC-TV program “20/20,” which included Kentucky native Diane Sawyer’s account of Barbourville dentist Edwin Smith’s struggle to discourage parents from overfeeding kids with sugared drinks.
Earlier efforts by the rural-journalism institute helped convince the legislature to pass a mandatory dental screening exam for all first graders and a tax credit for donations to community foundations like the one in Clark County.
The national news coverage also helped spur the governor’s Healthy Smiles Initiative, which was rolled out two years ago with another Appalachian commission grant, of $2 million. This was to train rural dentists in pediatric services, noted Tony Wilder, The state commissioner of local government. Beshear, the current governors’ co-chair of the 13-state commission, will preside at sessions of the agency’s annual conference at Prestonsburg Sept. 7-9, which will focus on health issues in Appalachia.
Obviously, the bricks and the mortar at UK’s new hospital go to serve extremely important life-saving and healing purposes, but the pilot treatments of children’s teeth in Appalachia should persuade all Kentuckians that this care is essential for every county.
Al Smith was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission in 1979-82 and a cofounder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and is chairman of its national advisory board. His memoir, “WORDSMITH, My Life in Journalism,” will be published in November.
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