Friday, July 2, 2004


Release money
to hire teachers


Governor Lingle has not decided whether to release $2.1 million that the Legislature approved for additional public school teachers.

CHILDREN in kindergarten through second grade won't find crowds in their classrooms when public schools reopen after summer break. That is, if Governor Lingle releases the money approved by the state Legislature to hire more teachers.

Considering how bitterly opposed she was to the education reform measure Democratic lawmakers adopted over her veto in the last legislative session, the Republican governor may appear spiteful if she withholds the $2.1 million.

Lingle has cited fiscal conservatism as her reason for curtailing spending in other areas. Even as revenue collections are likely to exceed the expectations on which the state's budget was based, the governor wants to sock away some savings for the future.

That's fine, but during debates on education reform, she and supporters of her ill-fated plan for overhauling public schools duly acknowledged that children do better when they are given more atten- tion and 75 more full-time teachers will help ensure they get it.

The new law sets a cap of 25 students per teacher in the early elementary grades. If just one more child enrolls, schools will be allowed to employ another full-time teacher where in the past, part-time, casual hires were made until the overflow reached 15.

Legislators chose to concentrate on getting more teachers for younger students because those are the ages at which learning is most critical. Children who fall behind early on generally aren't able to catch up through their school careers.

Although there are student-teacher ratios in grades 3 through 6, there are no caps and no money for more teachers. Remedy may come when principals are given more control over their budgets as the new weighted student formula for fund allocations is established in the 2005-2006 school year. Unfortunately, every year a child is not given the attention he or she needs to learn sets the student back.

For that reason, the governor should not deny those who can benefit now. Stashing $2.1 million in a savings account won't do as much good as having 75 more teachers in the front of public school classrooms.


Parents retain duty
to guide children


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a law to shield children from Internet pornography is potentially unconstitutional.

PARENTS have been saved once again from having the government usurp their responsibility to curb their children's surfing of the Internet. The U.S. Supreme Court has sent back to the lower courts for trial the issue of whether to impose criminal penalties on commercial Web sites that make pornography available to those younger than 17. Software is more effective than government in patrolling cyberspace and already is available for parents to protect their children from foul material.

Congress has tried for nearly a decade to fashion a law that would find favor with voters angry about the prospect of young people being exposed to porn on the 'Net. The Supreme Court first struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996, and Congress responded the next year with the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, which a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union stopped at the gate.

The notion that a federal law could significantly reduce the amount of sexually explicit material from the Internet is itself ludicrous. Most of the porn is transmitted from overseas. Secure Computing, which sells filtering software, published a study finding three million adult-oriented pages coming from the South Pacific island of Niue, east of Tonga, with a population of 2,156. Secure Computing executive David Burt jokes that COPA could stand for the "Cyber Offshoring of Pornography Act."

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court's 5-4 majority that voluntary use of software filters may be best at imposing "selective restrictions on speech at the receiving end, not universal restrictions at the source." Such prohibitions at the source "have the constant potential to be a repressive force in the lives and thoughts of free people," he added.

The court left it to a District Court in Philadelphia to determine if the 1996 law is "the least restrictive alternative available to accomplish Congress' goal." The decision undoubtedly will return to the high court.

In the dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the filtering software "lacks precision." Imprecision -- which declines as technology rapidly improves -- results more often in inoffensive material being blocked than offensive sites slipping through. Breyer added that use of a filter depends on parents' willingness to pay for it, install it and monitor their children's Internet activities. That is properly the parents' responsibility.



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