Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for November, 2012

Washington in bottom third in on-time high school grad rates

by November 30th, 2012

New rankings that the U.S. Department of Education says are for the first time solidly comparable between states, show that in the 2010-2011 school year Washington ranked in the bottom third nationally in its rate of on-time high school graduation, within four years of 9th grade. Washington was tied with several other states for the 14th lowest rate, of 76 percent, out of 47 states plus the District of Columbia and the nationwide Bureau of Indian Education, for which data were available. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement, “By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed. Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.” Making increased K-12 spending effective is certainly an issue in Washington, one which independent state policy analysts continue to probe.

Up to $106M more in military contracts OKd for WA firms

by November 28th, 2012

The U.S. Marine Corps and Army will be getting up to $32.9 million worth of top-of-the-line powdered eggs through early 2018 under a contract announced this week between the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency and a Lacey, Wash. company named Nutriom. National sales manager Ed Hernandez says the family-owned firm was formed in the early 2000s and had been supplying the military previously just as a subcontractor, so this is a big step forward. Meanwhile, earlier this month, Kent, Wash.-based Sysco Seattle Inc. won two one-year contract extensions worth up to $73 million for food service supplies and distribution to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Northwest companies other than military giant Boeing continue to win U.S. defense contracts for a wide range of deliverables, including food supplies, medical technology, construction services, surveillance systems, water filtration devices and even ocean research vessels.

But up to $33 million for a whole lot of powdered eggs? Given its almost universally-poor reputation with diners, and far higher expectations these days for institutional food, is this really a smart purchase by the U.S. government? Hernandez, of Nutriom, says the company’s research and development process has yielded a line of powdered egg products which actually taste good and are virtually indistinguishable from fresh-cooked eggs. The product to be purchased by the Defense Logistics Agency is a boil-in-bag version of its trademarked “OvaEasy” dehydrated egg crystals, with butter flavoring added.

KING-5 took the OvaEasy product for a test drive with the help of the morning grill cook at the Seattle breakfast spot Beth’s Cafe on Aurora Ave. North, home of the legendary 12-egg omelet. Perhaps unexpectedly, there were thumbs-up from the chef and KING 5’s no-pushover reviewer.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Six thefts of funds found at Seattle Community Colleges

by November 28th, 2012

A letter from the Washington State Auditor’s Office, quietly slipped into the meeting agenda documents packet this month of the Seattle Community Colleges Board of Trustees, reveals that a College investigation verified six distinct instances of vanishing public funds from 2010 to 2012 totaling $7,240 and couldn’t determine who was responsible in any of the cases. They involve four different campuses of the College. The letter’s author, SAO Fraud Manager Sarah Walker, concludes, “we recommend the College strengthen internal controls to ensure adequate oversight and monitoring to safeguard public resources.” The school now says it has done that.

Scant gains from DSHS foster youth ed services program

by November 27th, 2012

A special services-based initiative for foster youth in K-12 public schools in Washington that was created by the legislature in 2006 isn’t correlated with improved academic outcomes for the thousands of students it has served, according to a new report for lawmakers delivered by the state’s own in-house policy analysis unit. The report by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy on the Education Advocacy Program (EAP) of the state’s Department of Social and Health Services found that compared to an equal number of similarly at-risk foster children who weren’t in the program, the high school graduation rates and grade point averages of 2,437 selected students who did use it between 2006 and 2011 were not any better.

Janitors, secretaries most flu-prone workers in Washington

by November 19th, 2012

On the one hand, getting the flu is considered fairly mundane, so long as there’s no pandemic and nobody dies. On the other hand, this common winter nuisance carries a hefty price tag. The annual bill in the United States for seasonal influenza is estimated at $87.1 billion in lost productivity, lost wages, and medical costs. We may suspect workers in certain occupations – such as health care or education – are more prone to get the flu, but there’s been little research on its prevalence across a range of occupations. Now, though, newly-reported data from Washington state provide some clues. A scientific survey of more than 8,700 Washington state workers showed that among 29 different categories it is janitors and cleaners, and secretaries who report the highest occurrence of flu-like symptoms, and truck drivers, technicians and construction laborers the lowest.

U.S. young adults reach a new low – in smoking

by November 15th, 2012

For the first time since standardized data began to be collected in 1965, young adults – aged 18 to 24 – last year bested all U.S. adults in percent not smoking, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and historical U.S. data. From 2005 though 2011 prevalence of cigarette smoking among the U.S. adult population has declined only slightly, from about 21 percent to 19 percent. But a bright spot is young adults, for whom the rate in that period dropped from 24.4 percent to 18.9.

The news comes in a new research brief issued by the U.S. Centers For Disease Control just last week in its journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. In years past, young adults smoked more than all adults in the U.S. A National Institutes of Health report drawing on CDC and other U.S. government data found that overall, 41.9 percent of adults were “current smokers” in 1965 versus 20.9 percent by 2005. That’s currently defined as having smoked at least 100 cigarettes overall, and still smoking on at least some days (the first part of the definition has changed slightly over the years). In contrast, according to a 2007 medical journal article by a CDC expert, the U.S. young adult percent of “current smokers” declined from 45.5 percent in 1965 to 24.5 percent in 2005.

But as the new CDC report shows, by 2011, young adult smoking prevalence had dropped just slightly below that of all adults in the U.S., as it continued to decline steadily from 2005 forward.

Rates of different age groups, 2005-2011, from Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults - United States, 2011, U.S. Centers For Disease Control, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, November 9, 2012

A 2008 University of California study suggests possible reasons. It noted that in recent years, young adults who did start smoking were more likely to succeed at quitting because they smoked fewer cigarettes per day than older smokers, relied less on pharmaceutical interventions, and were more often exposed to smoke-free environments in their teen and early adult years, when it is easier to quit.

Other findings for 2011, according to the new report:

Among racial groups in the U.S., Asians had lowest adult smoking prevalence rate in 2011 (9.9 percent) and American Indians/Alaska Natives the highest at 31.5 percent. Adults 25 to 44 years old and 45 to 64 had the highest rates of smoking and those over 64 the lowest. Of those living below the poverty level, 29 percent were smokers versus 17.9 percent for those at or above poverty level. One quarter of adults who reported they had a disability were smokers in 2011 versus 17.3 percent of those with no disability. More men were smokers than women in 2011, 21.6 percent versus 16.5 percent.

Of the 43.8 million American adult “current smokers,” more than three quarters smoked every day in 2011. They typically smoked 15.1 cigarettes per day in 2011, down from 16.7 in 2005.

The national projections are based on interviews of participants in the 2011 National Health Interview Survey, with the resulting data run through a number of statistical checks and balances, described in the report, to enhance the validity of the final results. Smoking status in the survey results is self-reported by respondents – but the CDC stresses research has shown that “correlates highly with measured serum cotinine levels,” an indicator of smoking.

Although there was good news about young adult smoking, challenges remain for the broader adult population. Its 2011 rate of current smoking is 19 percent but the nation’s “Healthy People 2020” program goal is 12 percent. The report says meeting the goal will require “extensive implementation of evidence-based interventions” including higher cigarette prices, more legally-mandated smoke-free work places and public places, and expansion of quit support services, anti-tobacco media campaigns, and restrictions on tobacco advertising and marketing.

The U.S. adult smoking rate could drop more sharply following the implementation earlier this year of a federally-sponsored national media campaign “which included graphic personal stories on the adverse health impact of smoking,” the report states.

State support for intervention remains very mixed, however. The report says 27 U.S. states fund their tobacco control programs at less than 25 percent of CDC-recommended levels.

The new CDC report says that tobacco use (which includes smokeless tobacco products and cigars) “remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States,” ending about 443,000 adult lives annually while imposing $96 billion in annual direct medical costs and $97 billion in yearly lost productivity.

Through reduced incidence of certain types of disease, and other public health benefits, researchers have found a 5-to-1 return on investment from smoking cessation programs in Washington state. One newer approach to public education – unveiled in King County last year – is community-based video storytelling on the benefits of a healthier diet and not smoking, through a CDC program implemented by Public Health – Seattle-King County, and local non-profits.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

A bright future for Mom ‘n Pop pot shops in Washington?

by November 14th, 2012

It’s entirely possible the U.S. will just chillax on possible prosecutions for marijuana use allowed in states now to include Washington, where voters last week approved medicinal or recreational adult use of an ounce or less starting in a few weeks, and levying a 25 percent tax on authorized sales once rules are adopted. But anything much like a big industrial marijuana sales operation with a state’s OK is likely to get the gimlet eye from federal prosecutors. These are among the key suggestions in a new report from the Congressional Research Service issued late last week after Washington and Colorado voters liberalized their state marijuana laws.

Officially, it’s not clear yet what the federal response will be to Washington’s Initiative 502, which passed by an 11-point margin. As the Seattle Times reported last week, options include contesting individual usage under U.S. law, or challenging the very concept of licensed sales, which will ensue from state guidelines issued a year from now. But the CRS report, which is national in scope and accents key U.S. Justice Department documents, quietly suggests the feds may be looking for a nuanced middle ground in states such as Washington.

Cities may seek more delays on green fleet conversion

by November 9th, 2012

Does the lobbying organization for Washington’s cities want to push against a 2018 deadline to convert municipal vehicles to use alternative fuels? The Association of Washington Cities is pondering that question, and expects to be making a decision in early December, said Dave Williams, the organization’s director of state and federal relations. The next legislative session starts in early January, with education funding and another multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall both front and center. But a recent AWC draft memo to members stresses local concerns about rising fiscal pressures on cities, infrastructure and jobs concerns, and state mandates. It says a possible priority in the 2013 legislative session starting in January is to “further delay the deadline or modify the mandate for conversion of local government fleets to alternative fuel vehicles” past 2018.