PortlanHearst Connecticut Media. September 5, 2023.
Editorial: CT knew about lack of oversight at summer camps, but problems continued to languish
Too many Connecticut laws bear the names of victims of crimes or tragedies.
It’s an unfortunate subtext of reforms. The people who make the laws are just like anyone else. It’s human nature to be proactive rather than reactive. The more public the horror, the louder the outcry from legislators and the quicker the change in policies.
We noted this less than two years ago after reporting on gaps in oversight on Connecticut’s summer camp programs. Our hope was to spur action in the face of a major problem before there was a crisis involving some of Connecticut’s children.
There have been no reports of tragedy, but there were also complaints of continued inertia about inappropriate conduct and operations at some of the camps.
Back in 2021, Freedom of Information requests filed by CT Insider revealed that more than 100 complaints were reported during the previous five years. One of the more alarming details in such figures is that the complaints involve more than 80 camps, rather than just a handful.
Less than two years later, CT Insider’s update identifies 74 complaints about private summer camps reported to the state’s Office of Early Childhood in 2021 and 2022.
Then, as in the previous cycle, the more alarming detail is the response from the Office of Early Childhood. The office issued one case of discipline, involving a camp in Durham that was shuttered for “extreme filth.” That was one more than occurred during the earlier five-year report.
Complaints can range from claims of bullying to inappropriate contact to medications that were mishandled.
We don’t envy camp operators. They rely largely on young, temporary workers with minimal experience, while being entrusted with the lives of children. And parents can be experts in accountability, far better watchdogs than lawmakers.
But the machine is broken. Everyone knew that at least two years ago yet the problem has languished.
This time, a few lawmakers raised their hands to prioritize making changes in camp regulations, notably state Sen. Ceci Maher (D-Wilton) and state Rep. Liz Linehan (D-Cheshire).
Across the aisle, state Sen. Lisa Seminara, an Avon Republican who is on the Committee on Children, raised the valuable point that “a review of the best practices of other states could reveal model policies which we could review in order to improve Connecticut’s laws in a bipartisan way.”
There is so much work to do on this issue, and there will be no escaping the reality that remedies must include financial investments in staff to investigate claims and to guarantee uniform training and background checks.
The potential benefits of such investments are boundless, such as preventing abuse and curbing future mental health issues for campers. Camp directors themselves should be consulted in the search for solutions.
When parents and children blow the whistle, they should expect someone to answer the call for help. There is still time to create effective new laws that prevent tragedies instead of someday honoring children who became victims due to a lack of oversight.
Portland Press Herald. September 3, 2023.
Editorial: Back to school, back to making education more of a priority
We’re doing a fair amount for Maine schools. To solve the most pernicious problems, however, we have to double down.
Construction is underway on a $75 million elementary school in Skowhegan that will transform education for the district’s youngest students. Sam Hight, chairman of the committee raising the local share of funding for the school, told the Morning Sentinel that support for the project revealed a lot about the community’s priorities.
“There is no power of change greater than a community discovering what it cares about,” he said.
Communities up and down the state should pay attention. While there’s no doubt Maine’s K-12 schools are supported by Maine residents, it’s also true that, in a lot of cases, that support is simply not enough. Not given the ever-growing responsibilities we heap on our schools, and the barriers to attendance and learning faced by many kids.
Not if we want to make sure that every kid in Maine, regardless of where they live or what challenges they face, receives the education they deserve.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good going on in Maine schools. Mainers should be proud of how our public schools overcome enormous challenges to teach students on a daily basis and give them a safe and hopeful place in which to learn. They should recognize the dedication that educators and support staff give both to their schools and to their students.
That dedication is constant and robust even though pay for those positions is relatively low, and the stress and responsibility very high. That combination is driving good people from the profession or forcing them to take second jobs. This dynamic is particularly acute in less affluent school districts that can’t afford to pay higher salaries, increasing the divide between schools in rich communities and those in poorer ones.
Maine has made progress in recent years, with the state now covering 55% of statewide K-12 education costs, leaving less for local taxes to pay, taking pressure off communities without a lot of resources. The state now pays for free school lunch for all students as well, an enormous help to school districts and their students. The floor for teacher salaries is now $40,000, following a 2019 law, still the lowest in New England but an improvement on where it was.
In recent years, however, the challenges have been building faster than ever. Even before the pandemic, schools were struggling to deal with the fallout from a confounding mental health crisis affecting a lot of young people, and the substance use disorder crisis facing many of their families. Problems like these, as well as unemployment and trouble accessing transportation or child care, were causing kids to miss school at high rates. School buildings were also showing their age, and becoming an impediment to teaching.
Now we can add COVID-19-era learning loss to the mix, with many students lagging behind.
Our students are forced to live in fear of shootings, too, in the way that no other kids across the world have to. LGBTQ students, and their friends and families, face a coordinated effort to marginalize them from their schools and communities, all part of an insidious national campaign to reduce support for public schools.
The influx of asylum seekers who need help learning English has also created new challenges for some districts.
Every time one of these problems worsens, it broadens the inequities between schools. Affluent communities just aren’t as affected. When they are, those communities have the resources to respond.
Maine does a lot for its schools. But to make sure that every student has an opportunity to get a proper education, we need to do more.
Legislators passed a law last year to raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000, but it hasn’t been funded. It should be.
Raises should be found for ed techs and other supporting positions, who do vital work in helping students who are behind catch up to their peers.
As part of that effort, state lawmakers should strongly consider increasing the percentage of education they fund; there is nothing special about 55% and no reason it can’t go up – so that struggling communities don’t have to raise more from property taxes.
Each community has a role to play as well. Residents should give what they can to the school district – there is no better investment for taxpayers – and work together to find other solutions that give schools the resources they need to thrive.
It’s time for communities to take a second and decide what they care about.
Boston Globe. September 3, 2023.
Editorial: Massachusetts needs a new tool against scammers who target elders
Making banks and brokers partners in the effort will help.
The fact pattern is now so well established that it’s referred to as the “grandparent scam.”
Someone purporting to be the grandchild in trouble calls granny needing bail money or money for a lawyer, who then gets on the phone to confirm the “crisis.” Grandma rushes off to the bank to get the required cash, packs it up as told to hand to a courier or Uber driver sent to pick it up. Then it’s usually gone forever.
A 93-year-old Pembroke grandmother is among those who have fallen for such a scam. But she has plenty of company here and around the country. Online and digital scammers cost Americans $10 billion last year, according to the FBI — about $3 billion of that was lost by seniors.
And only 1 in 44 incidents of elder financial exploitation is reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.
Seniors are often too embarrassed to tell even family members that they have been scammed.
“It’s a frequent enough problem that we really need to do something about it,” Secretary of State Bill Galvin told the editorial board. “The sophistication of the scammers has increased. And if an electronic transfer is used, once that money disappears, it’s gone.”
And so Galvin has filed a bill designed to put the brakes on a transaction if a bank teller, broker, or financial adviser suspects that an elder (defined as 60 and older) or disabled adult client is in danger of being exploited. It allows financial institutions to delay a disbursement and notify a relevant adult protective services agency and the secretary’s office if there is “reasonable cause” to believe financial exploitation has occurred or is being attempted.
“By and large these people (who are being scammed) are competent,” Galvin said. “But they need a little time, a little breathing room to reconsider.”
That’s Galvin’s aim with the bill — slow down the process that scammers have counted on to push panicked elders into making hasty decisions. The proposed state legislation pairs nicely with an ongoing federal effort — under the 2018 Senior Safe Act — that offers bank and financial services employees training on spotting potential victims and immunity when they report such incidents to authorities.
Galvin’s bill, filed in conjunction with Senator Paul Feeney and Representative James M. Murphy, cochairs of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, would also provide immunity from civil liability for those bank employees trying to do the right thing.
Now, not all scammers are strangers. It’s not uncommon to have family members attempt to exploit elders, and a few of those cases have been reported to Galvin’s office by brokers and financial advisers. In fact, according to a 2019 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “losses were greater when the older adult knew the suspect.”
Galvin’s bill deals with that possibility as well, including a provision designed to make sure that relatives or other third parties who might actually be engaged in the exploitation of elders themselves aren’t notified of a bank’s suspicions.
Federal efforts, including those of the Justice Department, have been largely aimed at spreading the word, educating people about each new scheme as it picks up speed. But for many that will come too late. States are now trying to close that gap — to take the more proactive slow-it-down approach.
A bill backed by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of Georgia and passed unanimously by both branches of the Georgia Legislature took exactly that approach. The Senior Protections from Exploitation Against Retirees Act was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp in May.
Earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill to give financial institutions the ability to suspend disbursements for up to 45 days if the exploitation of an elder is suspected. (The Massachusetts bill’s holds would expire after 15 days.) The Connecticut bill goes into effect July 2024. It too passed unanimously in both legislative branches.
Now Georgia, where Republicans hold both branches of the Legislature and the governorship, and Connecticut, where Democrats hold all three, would seem to have little in common — except perhaps their common-sense approach to doing the right thing by seniors — preventing their exploitation before it robs them of their savings.
The Galvin-Feeney-Murphy bill is all about doing the right thing by seniors here in Massachusetts. If Georgia and Connecticut can get it done, we can too.
Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus. September 2, 2023.
Editorial: The right choice
One of the great concerns state officials have been warning about in recent years is what has been referred to as “brain drain.”
By definition, brain drain is a slang term that “alludes to the loss of human capital from one area to another or from one industry to another.” According to global economists and investors, brain drain usually happens when skilled individuals and professionals leave the home countries (in most cases, developing nations) and go elsewhere to take advantage of better opportunities. It also occurs when individuals leave one area of the workforce and go to another for some of the same reasons.
In Vermont, the concern has become two-fold (with a third consideration thrown in). First, native Vermont youth, seeing the struggles their parents face and the challenges the state faces, opt to attend school or take jobs outside Vermont. Second, youth attending higher education institutions in Vermont have not been staying in the state (known as “retaining”) after graduation.
The third factor is inversely proportionate to the “brain drain” dilemma: Vermont suffers from a “graying,” or the largest demographic of the state’s population is older than 50 years of age.
Vermont’s most recent population numbers (2021) come from the U.S. Census Bureau estimates using the 2020 Census and other current data sources. The population estimate based on the 2010 Census remains the most reliable for comparison. It found:
— Overall, population estimates for Vermont increased almost 20,000 from about 625,900 in 2010 to about 645,600 in 2021.
— The number of Vermonters ages 65 to 79 increased significantly, up more than 40,000, as many baby boomers moved into their retirement years; the share of Vermonters ages 65 to 79 rose from 10.5% to 16.4%.
— The number of young people in the higher education years, ages 18-24, remained about stable.
State officials wish it had not been stable.
One of the factors that is considered a turn-off to many young people looking at a Vermont school as a possibility is the fact we are the second-whitest state in the nation, after Maine. According to the census data, 13 of 14 counties identify as more than 90% white only.
But there may be a new hope taking shape in our state colleges and university.
The University of Vermont this week released data showing the incoming Class of 2027 is one of the most selective and diverse ever.
According to the news release, there is a 37% increase in international students over last year; a 16% increase in students who identify as BIPOC; and a higher percentage of first-generation college students. Fifty percent of the class is from outside New England, an indication of the university’s broadening national and international recognition and appeal — class members represent 45 states and 23 countries. International graduate students hail from 40+ countries, with the largest populations coming from Iran, Ghana, Nigeria and India.
At the same time, UVM is welcoming more Vermont students, with a projected 8% increase in the number of undergraduate students from the state over last year. This fall admitted undergraduate students from Vermont whose household adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less are receiving federal, state and institutional grants and scholarships to cover full tuition and the comprehensive fee.
A similar trend is being reported elsewhere in Vermont.
Vermont State University, which is made up of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College, also is reporting trends toward more diversity.
A spokesperson reported this week that VTSU enrolls more than 4,500 students, including more than 4,000 undergraduates and over 500 graduate students. Nearly half of all VTSU students are first-generation college students; 50% of VTSU students are eligible for Pell grants; and one in six students identify as BIPOC.
Of the new students: 39% are first-time, first-year college students; 37% are transfer students or transferring from Community College of Vermont; 14% are readmitted students returning to VTSU after a break; 19% are BIPOC; 70% are from Vermont. In all, first-year undergraduates hail from 47 of 50 states and 19 countries.
What we need right now, in order to grow Vermont and its economy, are young people willing and eager to be here. As the state’s colleges and universities have shown us, Vermont natives, and folks from far away are finding reasons to come here.
We want them to study here, stay here and call Vermont home.
It is too early to say the data shows we are making improvements and coming up with the right solutions. But we are encouraged by the numbers. We are grateful our state has become the right choice for so many.