Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New York Health Officials Back Off Proposal to 'Legislate Fun'

New York health officials pulled back a proposal that would have placed new regulations on classic kid games like tag and Wiffle Ball that officials deemed unsafe.

Just in time for summer camp season, the list was delivered to towns, villages and camp operators, and in a surprise to many, games like kickball were placed in the category of “significant risk of injury.”

In turn, public outcry called for the state to stay off their handball courts. Some had called it an attempt to "legislate fun," as the proposal faced increasing criticism from lawmakers and recreational sports businesses.

Dave Mullany, president of Wiffle Ball Inc., based in Shelton, Conn., told that he was shocked to hear that lawmakers in Albany recently identified the activity as "poses a significant risk of injury" along with other iconic childhood pastimes, like dodgeball.

"It's crazy," Mullany said on Tuesday. "Amid all this talk of us becoming a nation of overweight kids, we really need to promote activity and kids having fun. Should these kids go to summer camp and sit quietly with their hands folded? It's a little disconcerting to see fun being legislated."

The New York Health Department maintains these lists make sure camps have the proper medical equipment to treat any injury that may result from any particular activity. The games range in danger from archery to kickball.

“A lot can be misread,” Claudia Hutton, a department spokeswoman told “For example, Arts and Crafts sounds like it’s glue and paint, but in some cases they use power tools.”

Leaders at the department are also relatively new and are working with legislation that was authored during the previous administration. Hutton said the department is open to suggestions from residents before it implements any new guidance and the decision is likely to be made on May 16.

The department created the list of risky recreational activities in response to a state law passed in 2009. The law has yet to be implemented.

"People talk about how we're less and less active and that we're concerned about the increasing waistlines, so to kind of limit what kids do for activity and recreation is somewhat ludicrous," Mullany continued. Mullany also noted that Wiffle Ball is the only activity identified by brand name. "It catches you off-guard when you see something like this, and especially as the only brand name mentioned," he said. "I'm sure I'll be hearing from friends who are parents."

The games are not banned at camps, but they come at a play-at-your-own-risk cost. Camps that want campers to play the games will be required to pay a $200 registration fee and have medical staff on hand.

There are roughly 2,300 regulated summer camps in New York that are required to be under permit and be inspected twice a year by the state's Department of Health.

The state claims that this has resulted in markedly low levels of serious incidents. State statistics claim that of more than 640,000 children who attend camps, less than two-tenths of one percent are injured in any manner. Games/activities on the warning list:

* Capture the Flag

* Crab Soccer

* Dodgeball

* Flag Tag

* Flag Football

* Ga Ga

* Kickball

* Nuk-em

* Red Rover

* Steal the Bacon

* Tag (all varieties)


Public education: Failing in America

Education programs, systems and methods in America today are ancient and obsolete. The university concept of colleges and degrees, for example, is a medieval invention. University graduates still wear the same cap and gown costumes of many centuries ago.

But graduation doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore. Almost everyone graduates now. We see kindergartners today wearing the traditional cap and gown for “graduation” up to the first grade. They “graduate” with cap and gown from elementary school too; but most of them still can’t read.

Compulsory primary and secondary public school systems in America took hold in the late 19th century. What began as a method to provide all children with a basic education in reading, writing, and figuring, has become a grand thirteen year daycare program to “socialize” children into the American collective. There’s more emphasis now on teaching kids what to think than how to think.

By most accounts, compulsory education isn’t working. Arne Duncan, Secretary of the US Dept of Education, admitted recently that this year, up to 82 percent of public schools could "fail" the government's "No Child Left Behind" standards. "No Child Left Behind” is broken and we need to fix it now," he declared. "This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed," "We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk."

According to Secretary Duncan then, President Bush’s law creating achievement standards for schools is responsible for the schools’ failure to meet the standards. He thinks that if we stop labeling schools as failures, they’ll no longer be failures. If the law were only fair, he imagines, the kids would do so much better. The obvious truth, however, is that 80% of compulsory American public schools can’t even meet basic academic achievement standards.

Meanwhile, in the land of perpetual fruits and nuts, The California Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act law is pending. It would require school textbooks and teachers to incorporate information on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans into their curriculum.

I can’t imagine exactly what information they want to teach about that beyond the fact that lots of normal people, both gay and straight, like to tickle each other’s private parts now and then. Admitted, that’s an interesting subject, but surely not for a compulsory public school classroom. Public schools have no business instructing children on cultural values and preferences. Those are purely private matters.

School officials from a small district in the state of Maine have decided to purchase at taxpayer expense $200,000 worth of Apple's brand new iPad 2 tablet computers, one for each new kindergartner in the district, now and every year in the foreseeable future. I’m sure the little five-year-old Einstein’s will have a wonderful time with them before the majority of the delicate machines are kaput within a week or two.

Give a responsible toddler a $500 computer; he’ll likely use it as a hammer.

So I don’t think any of these crackpot ideas are going to work, but if they do, maybe they can pass similar laws requiring expensive equipment and information on how to read.


Education costs in Canada

A 2009 study by Toronto-Dominion Bank found the total cost for a four-year degree, including academic fees plus living expenses, was $77,000. If you stayed at home, it went down to $52,000.

Fast forward 18 years from 2009, enough of a time span for a child to be off to university, and the costs more than double. The costs of a four-year degree will go up to $137,000 if your child goes away and will be $101,000 even if he or she stays at home.

“Can you realistically ask a child to take on that type of financial burden?” asks Craig Alexander, chief economist with the bank. “The answer I would reach is no, and this is why parents are having to save for children’s education expenses.”

Saving for your children’s education has become a necessity unless you want them to face a lifetime of debt, even if that savings comes at the expense of money that might have been earmarked for retirement.

The federal government has helped nudge us along this education path by offering parents valuable incentives if they save for their child’s education. Since 1998, Ottawa has topped up all registered education savings plans by 20% to a maximum of $500 per year and $7,200 lifetime.

The results have altered the landscape for RESP plans. Total assets in RESPs before 1998 were $4-billion — a time when none of the major banks even offered the program. Today, there are more than 70 financial institutions that offer RESPs, and as of 2009, assets had climbed to $26-billlion.

Mr. Alexander says all you have to do is look at tuition rates over the last four years and you get an idea of how difficult it has become for children to make it on their own.

“The average rate of increase of tuition rates is running at 4% annually. It’s not astronomically high, but with inflation running at 2%, it means tuition is rising at twice the rate of consumer prices,” the economist says, noting in the past four years alone the average annual tuition rate has risen from $4,500 to $5,000.

Yet, it’s all worth it based on a purely financial decision. “The rate of return on education is the highest of any investment you make. It’s better than cash, bonds or equities. The real issue is how do you finance that education,” Mr. Alexander says.

Peter Lewis is vice-president, regulatory and corporate, with Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation, which at 51 years old is the oldest education savings plan in the country. He says parents used to make monthly payments on an education plan to shelter income and profits from tax, but it didn’t reach a critical mass of popularity until Ottawa started paying people to make contributions.

“I think part of what has also happened is an increasing understanding of the need for education,” says Mr. Lewis, adding 70% of all jobs today now require some form of post-secondary education. “If you as a parent want your child to have success, a post-secondary education becomes important.”

The real challenge when it comes to getting parents to save is convincing low income families to put money away for an RESP. The latest statistics from 2009 show only 19% of Canadian low-income families applied for the Canada Learning Bond, which pays out as much as $2,000 per child without having to put any money in at all. “The participation rate drops as you go lower down on socioeconomic ladder,” Mr. Lewis says.

David Sharone, product manager of registered plans with Bank of Montreal, says the message just has not gotten through to those eligible for the free money.

“We’ve got to figure ways to increase that number. We’re meeting with government to try to solve it. There are lot reasons why — low-income people might not go to the bank as often, there might be financial literacy issues — but it’s free money if they just open the plan. There should be enough incentives out there for everybody to open an RESP.”


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