Patt Morrison for August 24, 2010

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California loses Race to the Top, again

In another blow to California’s public education system, the Department of Education announced today that it has not selected the state as a winner in the second round of Race to the Top, the controversial national competition between states for federal education grants. The $4.35 billion will be split among Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia. Had they won, participating California school districts, including Los Angeles Unified and Long Beach Unified, would have received up to $700 million. In order to qualify for competition, the school districts had pledged to embrace controversial reforms such as linking teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and allowing poorly performing schools to be converted into independently run charters. Officials said no one reason precluded a state from winning the funds, but a glaring shortcoming of California’s application was it’s absence of union support, from local teachers unions to the two major state teacher unions. Critics of Race to the Top, including teachers unions, several prominent education experts, and the National Education Association (NEA), have long argued that states like California are too willing to trade desperately needed one-time funding for unproven, aggressive policies. Is losing out on Race to the Top a devastating financial blow or a blessing in disguise?
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Could, for instance, $1 per square foot be enough of an incentive to rip out the lawn in your front yard and save a ton of water in the process? That’s the proposal being made by L.A. County Waterworks Districts, which provides water to Malibu, Antelope Valley, Acton, Kagel Canyon and Val Verde. They are trying to entice their clients to give up thirsty lawns and go with drought resistant, native plants—figuring that a little extra green will be good motivation to rip out the green currently occupying your front and back yards. But Southern Californians love their grass…is there any amount of money that could get you to rip out your lawn?
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As members of Congress get ready to go back to DC after their recess ends in early September, they're preparing to deal with a number of issues. Among them are the unprecedented rate of unemployment, the continuing economic downturn, and challenges in homeland security. To top it all, mid-term elections are rapidly approaching, elections which could make or break the Democrats’ House majority. In the next few weeks, Patt talks with House representatives in a short series. Representative Loretta Sanchez is next in line to discuss the midterms, the economy, and challenges that could face Homeland Security.
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The days of needing an entire roll of quarters to park on busy streets in downtown Los Angeles may soon be over. The old meters lining some of the busiest sections of downtown are about to be replaced with 10,000 new meters that accept debit and credit cards. In some cases, the old meters required a driver to pay $8.00 in quarters to park for two hours. The city’s new Express Park pilot program includes a super, high-tech network of wireless pavement sensors capable of tracking parked vehicles in real time. A central control center will be able to determine how much time is left in the meter, if the meter is malfunctioning (no more bags over the meters), and the frequency at which cars park in a particular spot. It will also be used to help direct motorists to empty parking spots on city streets and in city-owned garages. The city also plans to implement something called “dynamic pricing," or pricing that fluctuates depending on demand - motorists will pay more to park in peak times and less when the demand isn’t as high. The parking rates will range between $1 to $4 per hour. The new program will be in effect near the Civic Center, the central business district, Chinatown and Little Tokyo. If it goes well, will it be implemented in other cities?
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Obesity rates continue to grow, and all eyes seem focused on the issue... from the First Lady, to members of Congress, to health officials and academics. The figures are staggering: 2.4 million people joined the ranks of the obese from 2007 to 2009. Currently more than a quarter (26.7%) of the US population is obese. Researchers say the culprit is too little exercise and unhealthy diets with high-calorie meals full of sugar and fat. One local health expert, who happens to be on the board of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, has an idea, “Instant Recess”! Instead of taking cigarette breaks, why not group exercise breaks? She argues that prolonged sitting, or “activity deserts,” are a health hazard. Does being a slave to your desk create a saddle around your waste line? Would you be up for a few jumping jacks before lunch or maybe a quick run around the building (you know like Dwight Schrute did in The Office)?
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