Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

March 7

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on high school athletic participation legislation:

Public schools exist for the students who attend them, not for students whose parents choose to educate them at home or in a private or church school, but then want to cherry-pick their participation in athletics or other extracurricular activities at public schools. There are arguments to be made for each of these educational choices, but parents have to weigh the availability of different academic and extracurricular options in making their decisions.

A bill that narrowly cleared the Senate Education Committee would allow home-schooled students or students in church schools to take part in athletic programs at public schools. This year's version of Sen. Shadrack McGill's bill is slightly less ambitious than his earlier bills, which would have allowed participation in other extracurricular activities, such as marching bands.

That aside, McGill's bill is still fundamentally flawed and is justifiably opposed by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, among others.

One of those others is Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, the Senate minority leader, who quite properly asked "If the public school system is not good enough for your children or home-school children to go to on a full-time basis and have the whole experience, why is it good enough for extracurricular programs?"

If passed — which decidedly should not happen — the bill would become "The Tim Tebow Act." Football fans will recall that Tebow, the former star quarterback of the Florida Gators and now an NFL player, was home-schooled, but played football at a public high school in Florida.

The name, of course, is simply a bit of deception, much like a faked handoff in a football game. There is nothing in the real-life story of Tim Tebow that justifies requiring Alabama's public schools to bring athletes who are home-schooled or who attend church schools into their athletic programs.

There's a lot wrong with the bill, including some almost Orwellian language that mixes educational venues in a curious way: "For purposes of this act, the term public schools includes a nonpublic school if a nonpublic school permits a child to participate in its extracurricular activities."

It's a bad bill that should be sent to the legislative sidelines — permanently.



March 10

Decatur (Ala.) Daily on expanding Medicaid:

Alabama legislators, suddenly expressing deep sympathy for the one in five Alabamians who live in poverty, have failed to act on an issue that could both help the poor and improve the state economy.

The expressions of sympathy have come as they attempt to defend an ill-conceived bill that would drain millions from public schools for a tax-credit program that has shown no measurable benefits to the poor in other states.

The Alabama version will, according to the Alabama Association of School Boards, benefit about 10,600 families — most with high incomes — who already have their children in private schools. Combined, they will receive new tax credits of $37.1 million, all of it coming from the Education Trust Fund.

It also will benefit education corporations, who finally will see the payoff they failed to manage when a poorly drafted charter-school bill failed to pass last year.

A simple and inexpensive step that really would benefit Alabama's growing number of poor remains in Gov. Robert Bentley's trash bin.

Time is running out for a measure that would provide health care for about 300,000 uninsured citizens and bring billions of dollars to the state.

Alabama can join other states in expanding its Medicaid program in 2014 under the federal Affordable Health Care Act. It can do so at essentially no cost for three years. If projected economic benefits do not materialize, it can then end the experiment.

If the state sticks with the expansion, it would add an estimated $771 million in expenses over seven years. That's serious money, but it would bring in about $11.7 billion in federal funds, according to a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It also would lead to about $20 billion in direct and indirect spending in Alabama, and about $935 million in new tax revenue, more than enough to fund the added expense.

Bentley has said he will not expand Medicaid, at least until he reforms the existing program. Much more delay, however, and he will waste one of the three years in which the federal government will pay 100 percent of the increased benefit costs. Other states are implementing Medicaid reforms even as they expand their programs. ...

If lawmakers want to increase opportunities for the poor, poorly devised schemes to divert money from public schools is not the way to do it. Expanding Medicaid is.



March 7

The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News on the economic impact of hunting:

Many things aren't appreciated until they are gone. When people interested in conserving wildlife and their habitat noticed that the number of hunters was declining, it was reason for concern. They understood one important fact; hunters pay the bills for conservation.

That was the thrust of a November 2007 article in National Geographic Magazine. The publication that chronicles the natural world, published "Conserving Hunters," an article documenting the dwindling number of hunters and the impact that could have on wildlife conservation.

Growing urbanization, declining rural populations and limited access to land were feeding the decline. Without the money generated by hunting license and duck stamp sales and the excise taxes from gun and ammunition sales, where would the money come from to manage wildlife and wildlife habitat?

Who would take the place of hunters as advocates for conservation when hunters are gone? Because they have a vested interest in wildlife conservation — their sport depends on sustaining wildlife populations and their habitat — hunters and their organizations wield political clout on behalf of land and wildlife preservation.

The article concluded that it was in the best interest of wildlife and land preservation to ensure the future of hunting. And introducing young people to the sport is the only way to ensure that hunting continues in the future.

After a long decline in the number of hunters, there is finally some positive news on that front. Hunting license sales in the United States rose by 9 percent form 2007-2011. In Alabama, numbers rose from 391,000 licenses sold in 2006 to 535,000 sold in 2011. That reverses a 25-year trend in the opposite direction.

That's particularly good news for West Alabama. The dearth of economic development in the region outside of Tuscaloosa County has little upside. But it has left West Alabama more sparsely populated than much of the rest of the state. The large areas of undeveloped or agricultural land have made it one of the premier hunting destinations in Alabama.

Hunting has a more than $900 million economic impact on Alabama. ...

... Unlike timber or minerals and mining operations, hunters have little impact on the land. ...

That makes hunting a clean industry. It doesn't create pollution. Once hunters are gone, about the only thing they leave behind is money. And few people object to that.