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Reader comment: A parent's case for charter schools

In speaking with friends and associates, I realized there are many misconceptions about public charter schools. As a parent of children in a charter, I believe it is time that many of these misconceptions be cleared up. To begin, charter schools are free and public. I’ve heard that only select students or only those with connections are accepted. That is incorrect; lottery systems are put into place for admitting students. How can you know that the charter will measure up to the public school? The authorizer — for example, a school district or the Idaho Charter Commission — of the charter school can choose not to renew the authorization if the charter does not perform or measure up to expectations.

Charter schools are unique in many ways. They are relieved from many policies controlling traditional schools. This allows the freedom to create their own path to help lead students to be successful. Some policies that don’t pertain are, there are caps on class sizes, teachers have a say in the curriculum they teach and they can change materials to meet students’ needs. Not being controlled by traditional policies does not exclude charters from everything. They are still required to meet the same academic standards that other public schools are expected to meet.

Charter schools have become a popular alternative for Idaho families. According to Bluum, a non-profit organization, there are over 20,000 students enrolled in Idaho’s 48 charter schools. I firmly believe there is no one-size-fits-all model for our children’s education.

Charters are proving to be successful. The Washington Post recently released its ranking of America’s Most Challenging High Schools, charter schools occupied the majority of the top spots. In addition, US News and World Report rankings of the country’s best public high school reported that charters dominated their list. These two reports show that for the first time ever, the majority of the top 10 public high schools are public charter schools.

Charter schools and nontraditional learning options don’t mean traditional schools are doing a terrible job. It means Idaho needs more learning options to reach a wider array of students. It shouldn’t be traditional school against charter school, yet many people make it out to be just that. It’s ridiculous to think we would only have one method to educate our youth. As parents, we should research, weigh our options, and decide which option fulfills our family’s needs. Our desires, needs and what is most important to us should determine our choice.

Idaho students must have an equal opportunity to receive an education that not only pushes them to reach their potential but challenges them to continue to grow and expand that potential. Idaho regulations make it difficult and time-consuming to open a charter school. It’s time we stand up for more learning options for our children, the future of Idaho, and make it easier for more high-performing charter schools to be opened in our state.

Other View: Mnuchin, Pompeo should recuse themselves from the Russia investigation

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and CIA Director Mike Pompeo ought to follow the lead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and recuse themselves from the special counsel’s investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election.

The two Cabinet members are linked to the investigation through the agencies they run, which are assisting special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging probe. Mnuchin and Pompeo should step aside for the same reason Sessions took himself out of the picture: potential conflicts of interest.

In explaining his recusal, Sessions said he was following the recommendation of Justice Department ethics officials. “They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation,” he said.

Mnuchin is in the same boat.

The treasury secretary served as national finance chair for Trump’s presidential campaign and on the Trump transition team. What’s more, Mnuchin has a personal relationship with Trump and his immediate family members, and has political relationships that extend to Trump transition advisers and campaign aides who could be affected by Mueller’s investigation.

Pompeo has his own conflict challenge. A far-right Republican elected to Congress in the tea party wave of 2010, Pompeo touts his personal relationship with Trump and key administration officials. He is an Oval Office favorite.

A serious question of partiality arises in the cases of these Trump appointees.

As it stands, Mnuchin and Pompeo are in a position to closely monitor where the investigation is headed—because Treasury and the CIA are in the thick of it.

Those government agencies are key providers of support for the special counsel’s investigation into possible contacts, money transfers and business relationships, including any money laundering, among a variety of Russian officials and Trump associates.

One Treasury bureau, the Financial System Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, is especially equipped to help unearth possible entanglements among Trump, his associates and Russia—or any suspicious financial activities of Trump and his associates. The Internal Revenue Service, another Treasury bureau, is a critical investigative asset because of its access to tax returns and familiarity with tax evasion and gamesmanship with money derived from illegal activities—the stuff of which convictions are made.

The CIA is similarly situated with the special counsel’s office. Last month, CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani noted that the FBI and the special counsel’s office are leading the law-enforcement investigation into Russian involvement in the election, but he confirmed: “CIA is providing relevant information in support of that investigation.”

Which gets us back to two of Trump’s most obeisant Cabinet members, Mnuchin and Pompeo, and the matter of their recusal.

Do they monitor the work of their agencies with the special counsel’s office? Do they know the contents of the information shared with the special counsel’s office? If so, what are they doing with that information?

I raised these questions this week with tpress offices at Treasury and the CIA. I also asked whether Mnuchin or Pompeo—or a designee—has disseminated any of the information to White House officials, including the president, his family members, legal advisers or any other administration official. The CIA did not respond. On Friday, spokesman Seth Unger said Treasury “declined to comment.”

My questions were not without cause.

While Mnuchin and Pompeo should expect to be kept informed of investigations conducted by their agencies, the fruits of those investigations should be disseminated only to duly authorized prosecutors, not the White House.

The country has a dark history of that rule having been violated. And it was a major part of what led to a committee of Congress in 1974 approving articles of impeachment against a president of the United States.

To recall: President Richard M. Nixon was charged with “disseminating information received from officers of [the U.S. government] to subjects of investigation . . . for the purpose of aiding and assisting such subjects in their attempts to avoid criminal liability.”

The facts, according to the House Judiciary Committee documents: On April 16, 1973, then-assistant attorney general Henry Petersenwent to the White House and relayed to Nixon evidence implicating his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and Haldeman’s aide Gordon Strachan in Watergate.

Minutes after Petersen left, Nixon met with White House assistant John Ehrlichman and informed him of Petersen’s revelations. Ehrlichman then took steps to gather as much information as he could about the events regarded as potentially incriminating by the prosecutors.

Nixon, the committee concluded, had spoken falsely to Petersen when he assured him that secret prosecutorial information would not be discussed with anyone. Nixon, in fact, informed former aides who were grand jury subjects of mounting evidence against them. Hence, the articles of impeachment.

Mnuchin and Pompeo might enjoy their access to the president. But they shouldn’t be foolhardy. Because of their jobs, they also might be in a conflict situation and a position to aid and abet individuals who could face criminal liability.

Brownie points and candy from Trump may be dandy, but recusal is better.

Other View: The Cassini mission embodies the best of humanity

This appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post:

The Cassini spacecraft embarked on its cosmic journey across our solar system two decades ago. After 4.9 billion miles of travel, the mission came to an end early Friday morning in a bittersweet finale as the orbiter ran out of fuel and crashed into Saturn’s atmosphere. Its planned demise represents the end of an era for a generation of space researchers, but it also marks a profound accomplishment for humanity and science.

During the course of its voyage, the Cassini space probe visited three of our neighboring planets, discovered six new moons and beamed back thousands of stunning photos to its home planet. It captured not only the inherent human spirit of exploration—traveling more than 100,000 times the distance of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition to circumnavigate the globe—but also the imagination of millions of people. Across this globe it kindled scientific inquiry in the minds of young people.

In many ways, the Cassini mission embodies the best of our species. Twenty-seven nations poured resources into the voyage—not for the sake of conquest, but for the pursuit of knowledge. After depositing its Huygens probe into the hazy Saturn moon of Titan, Cassini discovered seas of liquid methane. And while diving into the icy plumes of Enceladus, it discovered a frigid, yet active world complete with organic compounds—the building blocks of life on Earth.

Could it be that moons in the Saturnian system harbor microbial neighbors—the first evidence of life elsewhere in the universe? We do not yet know, but the discoveries tug on humanity’s adventurous spirit. This is more than just curiosity, it is hope for a greater understanding about life.

Humans have now sent robotic representatives to visit each of our solar system’s planetsand the dwarf planet Pluto. Upon arrival, we have discovered new moons and mind-blowing geological features that humble those found in our own world. We have even landed a spacecraft on a comet.

Human ingenuity has advanced by incredible lengths since men first landed on the moon in 1969. But Cassini’s obituary should not also mark the end of human exploration—far from it. Just like other missions that have come to an end, Cassini’s journey offers a mandate for more: in this case, to return to Saturn and continue the search for life beyond Earth.

Scientists and engineers at NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and elsewhere who worked on the Cassini mission should be commended for their decades-long work. People across the globe will see the images and read about their discoveries for generations. Cassini’s retirement deserves not only a fond farewell, but also proud applause for its contribution to science.

NASA JPL-Caltech Univ. Arizona Univ. Idaho  

This near-infrared, color view from Cassini shows the sun glinting off Titan’s north polar seas.