Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. July 24, 2022.

Editorial: Nebraska’s teachers need our support, and not just higher pay

Local school districts are taking good first steps to deal with a shortage of teachers.

Just last week, the Elkhorn Public Schools approved stipends to boost teacher pay, such as a one-time $1,500 bonus for returning teachers and support staff. New employees will get a $100 bonus each month during the school year.

That follows the Omaha Public Schools’ decision to give $4,500 annual stipends to its teachers for the next two years, taken from the district’s allotment of pandemic recovery funds.

Certainly the extra pay will be welcomed by teachers who have felt underpaid and underappreciated. And the additional compensation may slow down the exodus of teachers from local schools. Earlier this year, for example, OPS reported that staff departures were up 43%.

But short-term bonuses will only go so far in fixing a much deeper problem. School districts, state leaders, parents and others need to take additional steps to support the teachers who are at the front lines in educating Nebraska’s young people.

Better compensation is part of it. The $9,000 in bonuses over two years in OPS is a nice boost, especially in a time of high inflation. But after two years, the district’s teachers will drop back to their regular base pay — which is sure to seem like a pay cut at that point.

Without a path to consistently higher compensation, it’s unlikely that the teacher exodus will end. And it seems certain that continued staff shortages, in turn, will lead to more teacher departures in the future.

Teachers who remain already are being asked to do more — teaching larger classes, filling in for absent colleagues when substitutes can’t be found, being transferred involuntarily to schools that have the largest staffing shortages, taking on additional responsibilities. With less time during the day to plan and grade papers, teachers have to work longer hours.

On top of that, teachers are frustrated by rising behavior problems even as they are trying to help students who lost ground academically during the pandemic.

Obviously, more teachers would help. Westside Community Schools is partnering with Midland University to help some of its paraprofessionals earn a teaching degree through a new two-year program. Other districts have had similar efforts to grow their own staff.

On a broader scale, perhaps the State of Nebraska could come up with new incentives such as free or reduced tuition or loan forgiveness to get more new teachers into the pipeline so schools can replace those who will be retiring.

But in the end, more money and more teachers alone won’t be enough. The teachers who are leaving the profession tell of being burned out by the demands and challenges of being responsible not only for teaching the 3Rs, but also feeling that parents and school administrators aren’t doing enough to address discipline issues.

And while most people may respect and value teachers, educators also have felt sharp criticism from politicians and others who are quick to make accusations of “indoctrination” on racial, political or sexual matters. Most of that criticism is ill-informed and certainly indiscriminate, leaving many dedicated educators to feel that they are under attack.

Nebraskans shouldn’t want the people who teach our children to feel attacked, unappreciated, unsupported, overwhelmed or underpaid. That’s a formula for losing good teachers and weakening the education of our next generation.

Parents can do more to help their children prioritize both academics and good behavior.

School administrators and district leaders can do more to help teachers address bad behavior in the classroom, including removing disruptive students and finding different ways to teach them while letting other children continue to learn.

Politicians can resist using an overly broad brush in talking about education issues, so they are not scoring political points at the expense of conscientious teachers who are just doing their jobs.

Combined with other efforts to boost pay and train more teachers, we can make Nebraska a welcoming and supportive place for educators — and education.

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North Platte Telegraph. July 24, 2022.

Editorial: Here’s an inflation primer for those new to fast-rising prices

There’s really no winning, at a basic level, when it comes to balancing wages and prices.

Americans 50 and older have seen enough that they should most fully realize that as inflation reaches levels not seen in four decades.

Americans younger than 50? It’s all new to them.

Thus we offer a brief lesson in recent U.S. economic history, to better understand the inflation monster that has been unleashed from its cage in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inflation, as we hope most people know, is the percentage of growth in prices to buy a predefined set of goods from one year to the next.

If that collection of goods cost $1,000 in Year A and $1,100 in Year B, that’s an annual inflation rate of 10%.

If monthly inflation is, say, 3.2% (or 6.1%, 8.7%, 12.5% or whatever), it doesn’t mean prices are going up by that percentage every month. It simply reflects the increase in prices for that predefined basket of goods that month vs. the same month a year earlier.

The lower the inflation rate, the better. Usually. (One also can have deflation, when prices for those goods drop compared with the previous year.)

During the 1960s, annual inflation was less than 2% a year from 1960 to 1965. Then it started rising.

The cost of the Vietnam War was an early factor. Then came the first “energy crisis” of 1973, when mostly Arab oil-producing countries withheld their supplies out of anger over U.S. support of Israel in the Middle East.

By 1974, annual inflation was 11.1%.

Things got a bit better, but a fresh Arab oil embargo and “stagflation” — an insidious mixture of inflation with a slow-growing or contracting economy — drove 1980’s inflation rate to 13.5%.

Not surprisingly, people frustrated with the rising cost of living were demanding and often getting higher pay. Which drove prices even higher.

At the same time, the government’s “prime” interest rate — what the Federal Reserve charges banks to borrow money so banks can in turn loan it to others —reached a record 21.5% in 1980.

Now for a bit of perspective: Many nations have had inflation far, far higher than the United States did when today’s 50-somethings were in high school.

No matter. Americans felt the pain.

It took six years to get annual inflation back below 2%. It bounced back up to 5.4% in 1990 and 4.2% in 1991, the years of the first Gulf War.

Then inflation stayed below that for 30 years. Until now.

As we contemplate June’s annual inflation rate of 9.1% — the highest since 1981 — here’s the next question: How was inflation’s back broken back then?

Those 20%-plus interest rates had much to do with it. They especially discouraged big purchases people and businesses had to borrow money for.

Unfortunately for many Americans, it also led many businesses to cut wages and jobs. They bought less.

Supplies generally rose. Those runaway rising prices cooled down. And businesses gradually felt like they could hire and invest again.

It’s all about supply and demand — not just supplies of various goods but also the supply of money to buy them.

This is an oversimplified explanation. It’s not just about how much profit businesses want or need.

Political and military actions can be disruptive, as with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And we here in farm and ranch country know all too well that hail, inopportune frosts and freezes, too much rain or too little can suddenly slash food supplies and raise grocery prices.

Conversely, too much food production drives food prices down — and our ag producers’ income with it.

That’s the inflation history younger Americans didn’t live through. They’ve only known an economy where prices rise slowly if at all.

However, they’ve also often seen themselves or their parents go for years without raises of any notable size unless they find better-paying jobs or careers.

Here’s the dilemma: At least over the past 60 years, Americans have either seen wages and prices both rise rapidly (from the late 1960s into the 1980s) or both move upward slowly (from the 1980s until 2021, when annual inflation hit 4.2% on its way to June’s 9.1%).

Which would we rather have? Or — maybe — might neither, on a nationwide scale, be better or worse?

That’s what we all get to judge.

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Lincoln Journal Star. July 21, 2022.

Editorial: Malcolm X belongs in Nebraska Hall of Fame

Malcolm X belongs in the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

Fifteen years ago, the Omaha native and human and civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1965, was deemed “too controversial” for inclusion among the Nebraska greats who have their busts enshrined in the state Capitol.

Now, Malcolm X is among eight nominees who are being evaluated by the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission.

Arguably, the most famous non-athlete, actor or politician born in Nebraska, Malcolm X is one of the most influential African Americans in history.

In the early 1960s, Malcolm X was a vocal advocate for Black empowerment, is credit for the spread of Islam in the Black community and is seen as the forefather of the Black power movement of the late 1960s and early 70s.

His life story, from living as an orphan to a life of crime, imprisonment, conversion to Islam and rising prominence as a spokesman for justice for Blacks, civil and human rights has been told in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” and in the posthumously published “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” widely recognized as the most influential African American autobiography.

And his legacy continues in the Malcolm X Day celebrations, held on his May 19 birthday in cities around the country, in schools named for him and even on baseball caps adorned with the block letter X.

His “controversial” aspect is rooted in his outspoken Black nationalism, promotion of the Nation of Islam, criticism of white America and capitalism as racist and arguments that Blacks must fight for their freedom “by any means necessary” – a dramatic contrast with the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

However, Malcolm X had moved away from his hardline Black nationalism after he broke from the Nation of Islam in 1964. He was struck down by assassins the next year.

If there is a drawback for his recognition, it is the fact that Malcolm Little, who was born in Omaha in 1925, left Nebraska as a child when his minister/civil rights activist father moved the family to Michigan after it had experienced white violence in Omaha.

State law requires those selected for the hall to have gained prominence while living in Nebraska – which Malcolm X did not – or have lived in the state and had their residence here been an important influence on their lives, which it can be argued it did.

It is worth noting that of the 26 people in the Nebraska Hall of Fame, three are Natives – Standing Bear, Red Cloud and Susette LaFlesche Tibbles. There are no African Americans in the hall.

Malcolm X, civil and human rights pioneer and empowerment activist, deserves to become the first Black person in the hall, a recognition of the impact on American life and culture by the Omaha native.

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