May 06, 2016

Rediscovered again

It must be an election year, because WV has definitely been rediscovered. Two presidential candidates hit the state yesterday alone, with two entirely different vibes. Here's coverage of a forum on poverty in McDowell County, one of the nation's poorest counties, led by Bernie Sanders. And here's coverage of the other one.

Speaking of the other one, this piece from Forbes questions his claim to be able to bring back the coal industry.  This one talks about what he didn't say to miners. And this one questions claims about national working class support.

May 05, 2016

Prophetic words. And others

I'm in the middle of a research project on the timely subject of why WV is poor. Along the way I rediscovered this prophetic 1884 report from the WV Tax Commission, which was alarmed by how quickly out of state business interests were gaining control of the state. Here's how it ended:

The wealth of this State is immense; the development of this wealth will earn vast private fortunes far beyond the dreams even of a modem Croesus; the question is, whether this vast wealth shall belong to persons who live here and who are permanently identified with the future of West Virginia, or whether it shall pass into the hands of persons who do not live here and who care nothing for our State except to pocket the treasures which lie buried in our hills? 
If the people of West Virginia can be roused to an appreciation of the situation we ourselves will gather this harvest now ripe on the lands inherited from our ancestors; on the other hand, if the people are not roused to an understanding of the situation in less than ten years this vast wealth will have passed from our present population into the hands of non-residents, and West Virginia will be almost like Ireland and her history will be like that of Poland. 
The rest is here and it's well worth a look. Golly gee, wouldn't it be terrible if they were right?

Slightly off topic, here's an interesting post from Ken Ward's Coal Tattoo about Donald Trump, black lung and coal. Here's an excerpt from an interview Trump gave back in 1990:

I like the challenge and tell the story of the coal miner’s son. The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son . If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination–or whatever–to leave their mine. They don’t have “it.”

Imagine the outrage if something like that came from the mouth of other candidates...

May 03, 2016

Hunger games in Congress

The following op-ed of mine appeared in today's Gazette-Mail. If you feel so inclined, please contact your representative and ask that they not mess with feeding kids in school.

We have a tendency in West Virginia to top the lists of bad things and bring up the rear of the lists of good things. One fortunate exception to that pattern is the area of child nutrition, in which we’ve made huge strides in recent years.

Some readers may remember the 2013 Feed to Achieve Act, which passed the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill was “to eventually provide free nutritious meals for all pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade school children in West Virginia.”

We’ve come a long way toward that goal since then. For the last two years, West Virginia has led the nation in school breakfast participation.

Rising to the top of that list was a huge turnaround. As MetroNews reported in February, a few years ago, only about 28 percent of students were fed school breakfasts. Now that number has increased to over 82 percent. This is a big deal since kids who are “hangry” — hungry and angry — can’t learn very well.

Part of the reason for that success was Feed to Achieve’s mandate that schools offer innovate ways of serving breakfast. But a federal policy enacted in 2010 also helped.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows school boards to provide free meals for all students in schools with a high percentage of children in poverty. The idea is to improve nutrition, remove stigma for getting free or reduced lunches, reduce paperwork, and to improve education and reduce discipline problems.

CEP has so far been adopted by 46 of 55 counties. Of these, 19 provide free meals to all students in the county at this time, with at least one new county to step up next year. As of January 2016, 429 out of 686 schools were participating — a rate of around 62 percent that impacted nearly 146,000 students.

It’s a big deal.

The bad news is that proposed legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives could undo much of that progress. The bill in question is HB 5003, misnamed as the “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016.” Its lead sponsor is Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita.

According to the national Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “If this bill becomes law, 7,022 schools now using community eligibility to simplify their meal programs and improve access for low-income students could have to reinstate applications and return to monitoring eligibility in the lunch line within two years. These schools serve nearly 3.4 million students. Another 11,647 schools that qualify for community eligibility but have not yet adopted it could lose eligibility.”

The bill would also increase and complicate school meal application verification requirements in ways likely to cause students to lose access to free or reduced meals.

Advocates for better child health and nutrition have also expressed concerns about the bill’s weakening of nutrition standards and its impact on participants in child care and summer feeding programs as well as the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program.

I’m hoping that our congressional delegation will stand up for West Virginia’s children and oppose these measures. We’ve come too far to turn back now.

May 02, 2016

Three things

If I had to name something that has changed for the better in WV since the elections of 2014, I'd have to say it was the writing of Gazette-Mail statehouse reporter Phil Kabler. His latest column on the state budget mess sums things up pretty well.

In a related topic, since quite a few things relate to coal in WV, here's something interesting from the Brookings Institution on the subject. Short version: unlike a simple regulatory approach to deal with greenhouse gas emissions--or simply ranting about a war on coal that is largely market driven--a carbon tax could actually bring much needed resources to the coalfields.

Off topic, in case you missed it, David Brooks had this to say about the Trump moment in American history and beyond.