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Opinion | The light of Easter

Bradley Byrne

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For those of us who are Christians, this week is the most important and holiest of the year.

We begin the week remembering Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, walk with Him through his last teachings in the Temple, watch the last supper with His disciples, sadly witness His arrest and trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, view with tears his torture and crucifixion, and sorrow over his death and burial – only to wake up on Easter Sunday to the miracle of His Resurrection.

There is so much meaning in this week that it is hard to pull out just one message.

His suffering wasn’t just physical, although Roman flogging and crucifixion were brutal even by the standards of that brutal time. He was betrayed by one of his disciples, a close friend. He was arrested, beaten and tried by his own people, who ultimately turned Him over to the enemy Romans, demanding the death penalty. Pilate gave the people the decision to save Him, and they, after praising Him effusively just a few days earlier, call for His execution.

On the cross He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” not so much for the physical pain He suffered but because at that point He took on the sins of all people. Sin is ultimately the separation of each person from God.  Earlier in the Gospels, Jesus said “I and the Father are one.”  To take on the sins of the whole world meant the ultimate separation from God, and that was the worst torture for Jesus.

And yet He took it all on willingly, fulfilling the Suffering Servant prophesies of Isaiah. That suffering and death were just the prelude to the true triumph over sin and death in the Resurrection.

In our much too busy world, where we are easily distracted from the Truth, and our ultimate calling as the hearers and beneficiaries of the Truth, we need to not just hear this story but let it sink deeply into our lives. If God loves us so much that He will allow His Son to be tortured and killed, surely we can return the favor by loving Him and one another.

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As I have noted in years past, we are truly a blessed nation with the freedoms we enjoy. We have the freedom to worship or not worship as we please, without interference from the government.

Sadly, there are many throughout the world who do not have that freedom.

In 1630, John Winthrop addressed a group of colonists bound for Massachusetts in the New World. He told them, “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

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This imagery came from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

Many Americans are familiar with this same “shining city on a hill” idea President Reagan used throughout his presidency and his life.

There is an inner light, shining to the world, that comes from the people of the United States thanks to the freedoms we enjoy, the love and kindness that we share with one another, and our strong foundations.

Much of that light permeated the early beginnings of this country. Our nation was built upon a strong foundation of Biblical values and morals and laws that shine brightly to the rest of the world.

The ancient Easter greeting resonates with me every day:

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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Opinion | It’s time for prison mental health reform

Dana Hall McCain

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Two of the major items on Governor Kay Ivey’s 2020 agenda are finding solutions to the problem of Alabama’s overcrowded and broken prison system, and bolstering our mental healthcare system.

Both are badly needed, and in some ways intersect.

I understand the political challenge of getting folks excited about funding a major overhaul of something as unpalatable as prisons. It’s far easier to rally support for education, health care, infrastructure—heck, basically anything besides creating better conditions for those judged to have done wrong.

But the success of our effort to rehabilitate offenders and return them to society in better shape than the judicial system found them does have real consequences for the rest of us. Overcrowded prisons are a breeding ground for violence, further dehumanizing and corrupting those who’ve lost their way. Draconian mandatory minimum sentences strip judges of discretion to assign appropriate sentences and add to the overcrowding problem. 

A broken penal system can take people who made mistakes and turn them into hardcore criminals. The skillset prisoners are forced to learn to survive the sea of gangs and drugs behind bars will be the very one that causes them to fail after release, and get on the recidivism merry-go-round for a lifetime.

Few are discovering a better way to live, or learning how to make an honest living and stay out of trouble after parole. 

As it currently exists, our corrections system is an active contributor to the problem of recidivism. The governor can start the ball rolling, but the state Legislature is going to have to get in the game and do the hard work of crafting substantive solutions.

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Harder still, they must find a way to fund those solutions.

The other major task is creating a more comprehensive and responsive mental healthcare network for Alabamians who need these services. Those who suffer from mental health challenges, or who care for a loved one who suffers, will tell you that accessing care in Alabama has gone from difficult to almost impossible since the closure of key inpatient facilities several years ago.

Those lacking good insurance or the means to pay for expensive care out-of-pocket are wholly at the mercy of the state. Sometimes, even good insurance can’t help you out, if a bed to put you in just doesn’t exist.

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The crossroads of these two issues is that a significant number of individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are struggling with a mental health condition. Many who struggle with an addiction to an illegal substance are trying to self-medicate for an undiagnosed or untreated mental health condition. Eventually, that addiction leads to a drug-related arrest and conviction.

Additionally, our lack of mental health resources means that law enforcement officers are often the first responders to a crisis. In the past, this resulted in a significant number of suffering individuals being arrested, when what they really needed was adequate care. 

Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter has taken up the cause of mental health reform, including developing more Crisis Intervention Teams to help law enforcement work with health care providers and families to reduce arrests and connect individuals in crisis to appropriate care.

That’s a wonderful, needed start. But again, the state legislature must find a way to expand the system to create beds where these CITs and their families can refer people for treatment. I’ve written before of the despair probate judges feel when families are pleading for help via commitment to a treatment facility, and no matter how legitimate the need, there is often no bed available to place that patient in. If a bed does exist, it’s not available for the length of time needed to achieve real stability for the patient. Our patchwork quilt of longterm and short-term treatment options in Alabama has massive holes in it, and it must be addressed.

These intersecting problems—prison reform and mental health reform—are real and impact us all at the end of the day. Does the Alabama legislature have the will to fix them? We should hope so.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org

 

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Opinion | Every school should have a mental health counselor

Craig Ford

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In her State of the State Address, Gov. Ivey said that mental health would be a priority for both education and our prison system. Then she set a goal of having a mental health counselor in every school system.

While I applaud the governor for recognizing the challenges our schools are facing when it comes to students’ mental health, the reality is we need a mental health counselor in every school, not just one for each school system.

Our schools are staffed by excellent school nurses and guidance counselors who do an outstanding job trying to help these students with mental health needs. But mental health care is not their responsibility, nor is it what they are trained for.

And the mental health needs in our schools are much more prominent than you might think. It isn’t just dealing with kids who have ADHD or a learning disability. There are kids dealing with problems at home, like parents who are going through a divorce or even parents who have a drug addiction.

There’s a lot that happens in a child’s life between when they get picked up from school at the end of the day and when they get dropped off at school again the next day. And while our teachers, school nurses and guidance counselors do everything they can for these kids, what these kids really need is a mental health counselor.

Setting a goal of having one counselor in every school system is certainly better than nothing. I guess you could say it is a more easily achievable goal. But our state leaders weren’t elected to do the things that are easy. Our leaders were elected to do the things that are hard.

And the truth is if we don’t invest in our children with these needs today, then for many of them we will be investing in their imprisonment in the future. In fact, that’s how we got into this prison crisis in the first place.

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I have said many times before that we should be building super schools, not super prisons. It is always better to keep a child from ending up in prison in the first place, and if we make the right kinds of investments in education then we won’t need these new super prisons that Gov. Ivey and Gov. Bentley before her have been fighting for.

The main reason we have overcrowding in our prisons is because we never did anything to change the path these people were on before they grew up and became criminals.

Building super prisons instead of super schools is like treating the symptom rather than treating the disease.

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We should be focusing more on getting kids on the right path before it’s too late. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And the first way we can prevent kids from turning to a life of crime is to recognize and treat their mental health needs while they are still young and have a chance at a normal life.

But only having one counselor to treat an entire school system is simply not enough to do the job right.

Of course, not every kid with mental health needs is on the path to prison. Many, if not most, are simply dealing with difficult or traumatic events at home that take place outside of school hours.

But those events affect what happens the next day in the classroom. These kids tend to have a difficult time concentrating, and often become disobedient and disrespectful. These things, in turn, make it hard for them to be successful in school and, ultimately, in life.

Like so many other issues, we all agree on what the problem is but getting to agreement on the solution is another matter. In this case, though, Gov. Ivey and state lawmakers seem to understand what is needed to fix the problem. They just don’t seem to be aggressive enough in their willingness to address it.

Having a mental health counselor in every school system is a step in the right direction and an improvement over our current situation. But let’s not set the bar so low. Our children deserve better than that. We don’t just need a mental health counselor in every school system; we need one in every single school.

Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

 

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Opinion | State Sen. Will Barfoot should be highly commended

Glenn Henry

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State Senator Will Barfoot should be highly commended, for sponsoring Senate Bill 105, in which military families, require school districts, operating magnet schools, to accept enrollment applications, for military children, where families have received transfer orders, to Alabama military installations.

Additionally, Sen. Barfoot (R) Pike Road is sponsoring Senate Bill 106, called the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, formation of charter schools, on or near military installations, with focus on serving military dependents, authorized. Tenure for certificated teachers temporarily serving in charter schools are preserved.

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, recently correctly stated that his goal is to “make Alabama the most military-friendly state, in the country.”

Over one year ago, former President and Commander of Air University, Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, advised the public, that 56 percent of students attending the Air War College, were not bringing their families; due to a poorly performing local school system, that was under intervention, and take over status. Mandatory, federal laws, state that adequate, and sufficient education must be provided, to kids of military families, by the Local Education Agency, which is, the Montgomery Public School System.

Gov. Kay Ivey drafted, an outstanding tentative education initiative package, of ideas, by reaching out to Lt. Gen. Cotton, to ask the families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, to provide their list of wanted items. The Governor’s directives to her staff, were very clear; provide the families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, with everything, they put, on their list.

The governor also ensured, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford were notified. Emergency education funding was requested. Additionally, the acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, and the Chief of Staff Air Force Gen. David Goldfein were contacted.

Through Gov. Ivey reaching out to Lt. Gen. Cotton, the education committees were formed; with successful results. Currently, the military children at Maxwell-Gunter, are attending schools out of district, in counties such as Elmore, Autauga, and Pike Road City Schools, regardless if they live on base, or off base. Families living at the family camp; within recreational vehicles, may enroll their kids, in the on-base school. Faculty, professors and instructor kids, may enroll out of district.

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It is critical that SB-105, and SB 106 pass, successfully, through the House and Senate.  Additionally, Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov Ainsworth and Sen. Barfoot, are exactly right; on their current direction, and their proper and correct road, being travelled, due to the following reasons.

Today, the Montgomery Public School system, is still under intervention, and this education system, is not moving forward. Other military bases in Alabama, are facing similar situations, in which the Local Education Agencies, are not providing, adequate and sufficient education, outside the military base gates.

The on-base Maxwell-Gunter Elementary and Middle School, and its principal Mr. Paul Hernandez, have been deemed, Top-Notch School, and Top Principal, over recent years according to the Department of Defense Education Activity Americas.

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I taught at Maxwell-Gunter, for two years, and I never had to send, one student to the office. The Parent Teacher Association at Maxwell-Gunter, is the best on the planet. I thought the parents were teachers. They are in the schools, from sun up, to sun down, helping to mold, and shape our next generation of airmen, wingmen, astronauts, scientists, doctors and future Air Force Academy cadets.

Many military parents, in private, are very concerned, their kids have the options, and opportunities to attend the very best schools, not the worst schools. Parents do not want their kids in unsafe environments, nor in class rooms, where the students are cursing at the teachers daily.

Over the years our Air Force Secretaries, Colonels and Generals, have spoiled us, by providing, the best of everything. Education is taken very seriously, within our military services. Our Air Force, and our Space Force, can’t remain number one, throughout the world, without the best education, top training, most effective hardware, and fastest software systems.

At this juncture, the only adequate, safe and sufficient schools, that I see in Montgomery, are a few of the magnet schools, private schools, or home schooling. A new Military Magnet school on the military base, or near the base, would be awesome.

I would also highly suggest, that the appropriate standards, of the Military Magnet schools, be set at the same high standards, and the current top cultures, of the Department of Defense Education Activity for K-12. Due to their proven excellence in education, and their top-notch academic advancements. Many students at Maxwell-Gunter, are highly performing, and virtually mastering, robotics in grades, 6 through 8.

Therefore, we should commend, Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov. Ainsworth, and Sen. Barfoot; and support them in their efforts, in making our state the most military friendly in the nation. Their initiatives, will provide, much needed assistance, not only for Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, but for all military installations in Alabama. Our ultimate goal is to attract military families to our Great State, and retain the current military families—not run them away.

This one, we must get right. Other states would Love to have our military families. Our state leaders are making sure, that we do everything, in our power to keep them. We can’t let other states, out work us, nor out hustle us, through their better education and training systems.

Just as a matter of information, in working with Gov. Ivey, in an unofficial capacity over the years. A lot of top Department of Defense officials, and top Air Force and Space Force leaders, along with local Air Force leadership, such as Lt. Gen. Cotton, and  42nd ABW Commander Col. Patrick Carley; have been very gracious, in supporting Maxwell-Gunter families, and our regional communities, to ensure that we continue to have the best education, and training systems.

Our top Department of Defense, civilian and military leaders; and our Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, Chief of Staff Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, have always, had our Six, and we have always, had their Six. There is absolutely, no doubt about that!

Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.

 

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Opinion | The workforce superhighway—stay clear of malfunction junction

Ed Castile

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As you merge onto the Workforce Superhighway in search of that dream career, don’t venture into dead ends or get lost at malfunction junction. Instead, look for signs directing you to AlabamaWorks!

There are several ways to enter the workforce superhighway and get on the right path. On-ramps include the Alabama Department of Labor’s Career Center System with offices placed strategically in 50 locations, or via one of Alabama’s Community Colleges that are conveniently located across the state. Many will enter the workforce highway via one of the seven regional workforce councils representing Alabama’s seven workforce regions. While others will enter through one of Alabama’s existing employers through work-based learning initiatives, such as the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.

The great news is that there are thousands of job openings in all sectors of Alabama’s economy including aviation, forestry, chemical, automotive, bio-medical and information technology. Alabama companies are paying premium wages for employees with a positive attitude, good work ethic and the appropriate skill sets. AlabamaWorks! provides a roadmap to these great jobs and it’s just two clicks away. (www.alabamaworks.com)

Remember when career resource programs were siloed, loaded with government acronyms and frankly, not user friendly? In those days, to the unexperienced eye, all workforce roads led to nowhere. Even harder to understand were the state and federal programs which were designed to help, and yet always seemed to be just out of reach. It was as if one road led to another road, which led to another, and eventually people careened off the highway at malfunction junction.

To help untangle the malfunction junction, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her Success Plus plan mandating that Alabama’s workforce programs work together to help citizens find credentials of value that will lead to a self-sustaining career. The goal: 500,000 additional credentialed workers in the workforce by 2025. To succeed, workforce agencies are working towards becoming more user friendly, untying the complicated knots and cross-training staff on multiple programs. Therefore, when a citizen enters from any on-ramp on to the workforce highway, they will find that there are no detours or road blocks. Rather, they will find friendly and helpful workforce professionals ready to assist.

Credentials may be earned as a student completes their K-12 education, during college or as an apprentice. The credential may also be an occupational license or industry recognized certification needed as a job requirement, or to advance to the next level.  There are thousands of potential credentials available, and they can be stacked, sequenced and aligned in a progression of increasing skill to assist Alabamians as they travel the workforce superhighway.

Now that you are successfully navigating the superhighway, how do you know what a credential of value is and if it is legitimate? Gov. Ivey has appointed a group of professionals though the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP) to make sure the credentials available in Alabama are truly of value. When you successfully attain your credential of value, then what? You want to make sure your credential is added to the Alabama College and Career Exploration Tool (ACCET) being created for you to market your workforce profile online where employers are looking for employees with credentials. The ACCET is a digital resume that helps you find employers and employers find you. The ACCET is currently under development and will be available in the fall of 2020.

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The workforce superhighway has many intersections and AlabamaWorks! is the ever-evolving road map. This one-stop online workforce resource will turn malfunction junction into a distant memory. Happy motoring and stop by anytime,  www.alabamaworks.com is open 24-7.

Ed Castile, Deputy Secretary of Commerce
Workforce Development Division, Director of AIDT

 

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