Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From an e-mail

Here's what some folks are saying about yesterday's session....

Dysfunctional Senate Kills Ed Budget

Special Session Coming Soon

CLAS Legislative Update

May 20, 2008

Monday the Senate wasted an entire day as Alabama and Auburn lobbyists dug in and killed the education budget. The big universities wrote some big checks to hire lobbyist Joe Fine and even after the House added $25 million in additional appropriations and $25 million in conditional appropriations, the big universities wanted more. Even though Alabama funding for higher education is near the top of the nation, and K12 funding is near the bottom, the big universities wanted more. About 10pm Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lowell Barron tried to get a vote on the budget. After 12 hours of mindless babble by those supporting the big universities, Barron tried to call the question. They needed 18 votes to stop the filibuster and get a chance to vote on the budget—but they fell short by one vote. Those Senators who failed to vote for the budget were Beason, Bishop, Dixon, Erwin, French, Glover, Holley, Marsh, Means, Pittman, Preuitt, Singleton, Smith, and Waggoner. Four members of the Senate did not vote and in so doing doomed the Education Budget. They were Brooks, Butler, Orr and Penn. If any one of these Senators had just voted to stop the filibuster the Budget would have had a chance. It was an ugly end to an ugly session with a disappointing performance by many senators.

Almost every senator claimed he wanted a budget but when the vote was needed only 17 stepped up and voted to do their job—pass a budget. The heroes were Barron, Bedford, Benefield, Coleman, Denton, Figures, Griffith, Lindsey, T Little, Z Little, McClain, Mitchell, Mitchem, Poole, Ross, Sanders, and Smitherman. Once the vote failed to stop the filibuster, Senator Jim Preuitt took control of the microphone and threatened to have the bill read at length. This stalling tactic guaranteed the death of the budget. Preuitt then dragged the proceedings until midnight discussing trivia and those who were “unwilling to compromise”.

The last ten minutes of the session Senator Hank Sanders got a chance to make a few comments and he cut right to the heart of the matter. “I am embarrassed by the way this Senate has let down the children of our state. Higher education always threatens to kill the budget if they don’t get what they want,” Sanders explained to a gallery that had been packed all day with members of the education family. “There is arrogance in paying $44 million to a coach and then killing the entire education budget because you want another $25 million, “” Sanders chastised.

Now the Governor will have to call a special session to get the education budget, and hundreds of non tenured teachers will get pink slips this week and next.

Dr. John Draper
CLAS Executive Director
Montgomery, Alabama
800 239 3616


Education budget and other stories

The Senate failed to pass the $6.3 billion budget over a disagreement about additional funding for colleges and universities. This will put most local school systems in a bind, because they'll have to pink-slip teachers that are non-tenured, and they will inevitably seek other work in Georgia, Mississippi and Florida.

So the question is not really, are you in trouble but, how much trouble are you in? For school system's already facing budgetary woes (Anniston springs to mind) this won't help them at all. Other schools like Oxford will absorb the shock but will still have to crunch the numbers and make it all work, the Oxford Superintendent of Education told me this morning.

Based on what I've read this morning, there's no clue when there will be a special session to work all of this out.

In other non-news stories, I got a nice tour of Oxford Elementary this morning where all of the classroom doors are open and the principal seems to know every child by name.

Donoho School had an event for their ArtShare program. Even though I can't get to the story, I'll be happy to post some pictures.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Follow-up thoughts from Valdosta

I enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the office (ok, flee the office) and go down to Valdosta for Dr. Bill Meehan's interview. I learned a lot about what issues are facing regional universities as they try to fill their niche.

And Meehan was in fact staying across the hall from me. We chatted informally for half an hour Tuesday night and I got a better sense of his thoughts on Alabama education v. Georgia education.

No idea when we'll know more about whether he gets the job- but I will keep you posted.

I should do a story about this .....

CHICAGO (AP) — American children take anti-psychotic medicines at about six times the rate of children in the United Kingdom, according to a comparison based on a new U.K. study.

Does it mean U.S. kids are being over-treated? Or that U.K. children are being under-treated?

Experts say that's almost beside the point, because use is rising on both sides of the Atlantic. And with scant long-term safety data, it's likely the drugs are being over-prescribed for both U.S. and U.K. children, research suggests.

Among the most commonly used drugs were those to treat autism and hyperactivity.

In the U.K. study, anti-psychotics were prescribed for 595 children at a rate of less than four per 10,000 children in 1992. By 2005, 2,917 children were prescribed the drugs at a rate of seven per 10,000 — a near-doubling, said lead author Fariz Rani, a researcher at the University of London's pharmacy school.

The study is being released Monday in the May edition of the journal Pediatrics.

By contrast, an earlier U.S. study found that nearly 45 American children out of 10,000 used the drugs in 2001 versus more than 23 per 10,000 in 1996.

There are big differences that could help explain the vastly higher U.S. rate.

A recent report in The Lancet suggested that the U.K.'s universal health care system limits prescribing practices there. The report also said direct-to-consumer ads are more common in the United States. These ads raise consumer awareness and demand for medication.

While drug company ties with doctors are common in both the U.S. and U.K., Vanderbilt University researcher Wayne Ray said U.K. physicians generally are more conservative about prescribing psychiatric drugs. Ray co-authored the U.S. study, published in 2004.

The new U.K. study, involving 1992-2005 health records of more than 16,000 children, is the first large examination of these drugs in U.K. children. It found the increase was mostly in medicines that haven't been officially approved for kids. They were most commonly prescribed for behavior and conduct disorders, which include attention deficit disorder.

Side effects including weight gain, nervous-system problems and heart trouble have been reported in children using these drugs and there's little long-term evidence about whether they're safe for them, the study authors said.

"This highlights the need for long-term safety investigations and ongoing clinical monitoring," they said, "particularly if the prescribing rate of these medicines continues to rise."

One of the most commonly used anti-psychotics in the U.K. study was Risperdal, a schizophrenia drug that is sometimes used to treat irritability and aggression in autism. Its side effects include drowsiness and weight gain.

Thioridazine, sometimes used to treat hyperactivity in attention deficit disorder, was frequently used early on. Its use decreased after 2000 when a U.K. safety committee warned of heart-related side effects, the authors said.

Reasons for the increases are uncertain but may be similar to those in the United States, such as an increase in autism cases and drug industry influence.

In both countries, the issue isn't simply how many children are getting these drugs, said Dr. David Fassler, a University of Vermont psychiatry professor. "The more important question is whether or not the right kids are getting the most appropriate and effective treatment possible," he said. Fassler wasn't involved in the study.

Dr. William Cooper, a Vanderbilt pediatrician, said the study shows the drugs are being used "without full understanding about the risks."

"I find it really interesting that we're now seeing increases in other countries besides the U.S., which suggests that the magnitude of this issue is global," said Cooper, also an author of the 2004 U.S. study.

On the Net:
American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www.aap.org