TIME Environment

Watch Live Concert for Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day in DC

Usher, Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani, Common and Train are scheduled to perform

(WASHINGTON)—An all-day Earth Day rally and concert Saturday is drawing some big names to the National Mall and some celebrities into the world of politics to confront the dual issues of climate change and poverty.

Usher, Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani, Common and Train are scheduled to perform during the free Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day rally hosted by will.i.am and Soledad O’Brien. The event runs from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. near the Washington Monument.

Backstage before his performance, Train frontman Patrick Monahan said he didn’t know much before about the environmental movement and the push to end extreme poverty.

“It’s about all of us being aware but getting our hands dirty because it’s not going to be an easy thing,” Monahan said.

Monahan said he’s been inspired by the charitable work of Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Hugh Evans of the Global Poverty Project, which has set a goal to end extreme poverty by 2030.

“Those guys lead their lives with their hearts. That’s the kind of people I want to be around,” Monahan said. “Whatever I can do to help legislation change, which is a humungous thing, and to get dollars to go to different places.”

Earth Day organizers also are announcing plans with developers of the popular “Angry Birds” game to create a new in-game experience about climate change. “Angry Birds” has been downloaded 2.8 billion times worldwide. The game’s climate change campaign will coincide with the U.N. General Assembly in September as world leaders tackle sustainability goals.

Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers said the game and celebrity power will help more people focus on solving climate change.

The rally is a joint initiative with the Global Poverty Project and coincides with meetings at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington. Top officials from the World Bank and United Nations are expected to speak at the rally.

Eliminating poverty will require solving climate change, Rogers said. So advocates on both issues are collaborating to push for sustainable international development.

“Whether it’s the big migrations we expect to see or soil depletion or emptying the oceans, loss of species, loss of timberland — all these things are creating poverty at the same time that they are also creating climate change issues,” Rogers said.

While Earth Day is officially on April 22, the Saturday rally is asking participants to commit to making environmentally friendly “acts of green” this year. Organizers also are asking attendees to sign petitions for a U.N. conference on climate change planned for Paris in December.

TIME Crime

Police Rescue Puppies Strapped to the Roof of a Car in a Cage

The driver said there wasn't room for the dogs in the car

A police dash-cam video shows officers rescuing four scared puppies from a cage strapped to the roof of a van traveling on an Ohio highway Friday.

Akron police pulled over the driver and his family after receiving multiple 911 calls about the dogs, who were wind-battered but didn’t have any injuries, Sgt. Kris Beitzel told NBC affiliate WKYC.

“I did ask him why the dogs were not riding in the car, and he said he had far more important things to put in the car, meaning his children, and there wasn’t room,” Beitzel said.

The family of six, who was…

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TIME Environment

Millions of Jellyfish Invade Pacific Northwest Beaches

JELLYFISH BOUNTY
Kathy Quigg—AP Alan Rammer of the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife's marine conservation and education division, holds a handful of the blue-hued velella jellyfish in Ocean City, Wash., on May 14, 2004.

Jellyfish are washing up on shore in Oregon and Washington

Beach-goers beware.

Millions of jellyfish are washing up on the shores of beaches in Washington and Oregon, CNN reports.

It is not unusual for the bluish-purple species called Velella velalla to turn up in the spring, but a sail fin on their body usually keeps them away from the shore. This spring, though, their sails were no match for the wind.

The species, also known as “purple sailor,” has stinging cells that are not seriously harmful to humans, but the Oregon State website warns it’s best to avoid rubbing your eyes after touching them or walking barefoot through them on the beach.

TIME Education

Thousands of Kids Opt Out of Standardized Common Core Tests Across U.S.

At some schools, up to 70 percent of kids are refusing to take the exams

(ATLANTA)—Thousands of students are opting out of new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core standards, defying the latest attempt by states to improve academic performance.

This “opt-out” movement remains scattered but is growing fast in some parts of the country. Some superintendents in New York are reporting that 60 percent or even 70 percent of their students are refusing to sit for the exams. Some lawmakers, sensing a tipping point, are backing the parents and teachers who complain about standardized testing.

Resistance could be costly: If fewer than 95 percent of a district’s students participate in tests aligned with Common Core standards, federal money could be withheld, although the U.S. Department of Education said that hasn’t happened.

“It is a theoretical club administrators have used to coerce participation, but a club that is increasingly seen as a hollow threat,” said Bob Schaeffer with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which seeks to limit standardized testing.

And so the movement grows: This week in New York, tens of thousands of students sat out the first day of tests, with some districts reporting more than half of students opting out of the English test. Preliminary reports suggest an overall increase in opt-outs compared to last year, when about 49,000 students did not take English tests and about 67,000 skipped math tests, compared to about 1.1 million students who did take the tests in New York.

Considerable resistance also has been reported in Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania, and more is likely as many states administer the tests in public schools for the first time this spring.

The defiance dismays people who believe holding schools accountable for all their students’ continuing improvement is key to solving education problems.

Assessing every student each year “gives educators and parents an idea of how the student is doing and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally underserved populations,” U.S. Department of Education Spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said in an emailed statement.

Opposition runs across the political spectrum.

Some Republicans and Tea Party activists focus on the Common Core standards themselves, calling them a federal intrusion by President Barack Obama, even though they were developed by the National Governors Association and each state’s education leaders in the wake of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program.

The Obama administration has encouraged states to adopt Common Core standards through the federal grant program known as Race to the Top, and most have, but each state is free to develop its own tests.

In California, home to the nation’s largest public school system and Democratic political leaders who strongly endorse Common Core standards, there have been no reports of widespread protests to the exams — perhaps because state officials have decided not to hold schools accountable for the first year’s results.

But in deep-blue New York, resistance has been encouraged by the unions in response to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to make the test results count more in teacher evaluations.

In Rockville Centre on Long Island, Superintendent William H. Johnson said 60 percent of his district’s third-through-eighth graders opted out. In the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, nearly 70 percent didn’t take the state exam, Superintendent Mark Crawford said.

“That tells me parents are deeply concerned about the use of the standardized tests their children are taking,” Crawford said. “If the opt-outs are great enough, at what point does somebody say this is absurd?”

Nearly 15 percent of high school juniors in New Jersey opted out this year, while fewer than 5 percent of students in grades three through eight refused the tests, state education officials said. One reason: Juniors may be focusing instead on the SAT and AP tests that could determine their college futures.

Much of the criticism focuses on the sheer number of tests now being applied in public schools: From pre-kindergarten through grade 12, students take an average of 113 standardized tests, according to a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts.

Of these, only 17 are mandated by the federal government, but the backlash that began when No Child Left Behind started to hold teachers, schools and districts strictly accountable for their students’ progress has only grown stronger since “Common Core” gave the criticism a common rallying cry.

“There is a widespread sentiment among parents, students, teachers, administrators and local elected officials that enough is enough, that government mandated testing has taken over our schools,” Schaeffer said.

Teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing the results of standardized tests, the National Education Association says.

The pressure to improve results year after year can be demoralizing and even criminalizing, say critics who point to the Atlanta test-cheating scandal, which led to the convictions 35 educators charged with altering exams to boost scores.

“It seems like overkill,” said Meredith Barber, a psychologist from the Philadelphia suburb of Penn Valley who excused her daughter from this year’s tests. Close to 200 of her schoolmates also opted out in the Lower Merion School District, up from a dozen last year.

“I’m sure we can figure out a way to assess schools rather than stressing out children and teachers and really making it unpleasant for teachers to teach,” said Barber, whose 10-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, will be in the cafeteria researching Edwardian history and the TV show “Downton Abbey” during the two weeks schools have set aside for the tests.

Utah and California allow parents to refuse testing for any reason, while Arkansas and Texas prohibit opting out, according to a report by the Education Commission of the States. Most states are like Georgia, where no specific law clarifies the question, and lawmakers in some of these states want protect the right to opt out.

Florida has another solution: Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill strictly limiting testing to 45 hours each school year.

In Congress, meanwhile, lawmakers appear ready to give states more flexibility: A Senate committee approved a bipartisan update of No Child Left Behind this week that would let each state determine how much weight to give the tests when evaluating school performance.

TIME Laws

Kansas Tattoo Parlors Say Nobody’s Getting Inked on Welfare Checks

Gov. Sam Brownback signs a welfare reform bill into law in Topeka, Kan. on April 16, 2015.
Orlin Wagner—AP Gov. Sam Brownback signs a welfare reform bill into law in Topeka, Kans., on Apr. 16, 2015.

A new law also restricts welfare spending on lingerie, concert tickets and psychics

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law Thursday some of the country’s strictest prohibitions on where welfare money can and can’t be spent. For needy families in the Sunflower State, concerts are out. Casinos: out. Lingerie: out. Fortune tellers: out. The law lists more than two dozen products or businesses that are now off-limits.

But owners and operators of a half-dozen Kansas psychics, lingerie stores and tattoo parlors, in which poor families are now restricted from spending cash assistance from the state, all say essentially the same thing: patrons aren’t using welfare in here anyway.

“I’ve never seen anybody try that,” says Aimee Teets, a receptionist at Aftershock Tattoo Co., in Olathe, Kan. Teets says some pre-loadable cards aren’t even accepted at her business, so it’s possible that a benefits card from the state would’ve been denied even before the law was passed.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 23 states have passed restrictions on state benefit cards in attempts to prevent purchases on items like alcohol and gambling. The law signed in Kansas Thursday is believed to be among the most restrictive in the U.S.

But according to studies, most welfare recipients appear to be spending a majority of their money on basic necessities. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, a vast majority of families on public assistance spend that money on housing, food and transportation. Only a small percentage goes to expenses like entertainment.

The Associated Press also cites a 2014 federal report looking at eight states’ welfare transactions showing that spending on liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs made up less than 1% of the total.

Liz Bartlett, a sales associate at lingerie store Clair de Lune in Overland Park, Kan., says she’s never been aware of anyone using welfare money on purchases at the store. Tattooists who spoke to TIME agreed. “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” says Jim, the general manager of The Mercy Seat who refused to give his last name. “But we’re cash only anyway.”

That still poses a problem for state officials hoping to keep welfare monies in check. The new law allows people to withdraw $25 a day, and the state can’t easily control where it’s spent.

“The purchases may be declined if an EBT card is used,” says Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families. “If [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] cash funds are withdrawn from an EBT card, it is very difficult to track the use of those funds.”

TIME Education

How Colleges are Squeezing Students on Financial Aid

Dalia Garcia breathed a sigh of relief when she found out that she had been given enough financial aid to nearly cover the cost of tuition for her first year at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. Because her father earned less than $20,000 a year as a janitor, college would have been out of reach without the help. The aid meant “having a sense of security,” she recalled. And as a high school valedictorian with a high grade-point average, Garcia was able to add several scholarships to her bounty.

Then, heading into her junior year, the money stopped.

“I would go to the financial aid office, they would direct me to websites, and everything was for first- and second-year students,” Garcia said, explaining that college officials told her she would have to find work-study programs or loans to cover whatever her family couldn’t afford.

“I was shocked,” she said. “Especially being closer to graduating, I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t they want to help me?’ ”

Many parents exulting at the financial-aid offers their children have received from colleges this spring are in for a similar surprise, several experts warn. As colleges compete to attract new students, they often often dangle more aid in front of prospective students who are still deciding where to go, and reduce the flow later.

The practice is well-known to education policy analysts. Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank the New America Foundation, refers to it as “bait-and-switch pricing.” Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president at Edvisors, an organization that researches and advises on financial aid, calls it “front-loading.” He says it’s the result of schools offering more aid to first-year students and their parents as a kind of “leveraging; they’re using financial aid as a recruiting tool.” Once the student has been recruited, the financial aid declines.

Such drop-offs can leave students particularly vulnerable, especially in this moment of rising tuition rates. Front-loading leaves many upperclassmen facing the difficult choice of going deep into debt to stay in school, transferring or dropping out. To make matters worse, many private scholarships are also restricted to freshmen, and end after the first year. Discovering the loss of funding as suddenly and unexpectedly as many students do is like “getting to the edge of a cliff,” said Amy Weinstein, executive director of the National Scholarship Providers Association, or NSPA.

Kantrowitz estimates that about half of all colleges and universities front-load in some form. Indeed, Federal data bear out that the practice is widespread. They show that a lower percentage of undergraduates in general receive financial aid from colleges and universities than freshmen alone do. The amount awarded to the typical freshman is higher, too, before it then declines. More than 46% of freshmen get tuition discounts, according to an annual survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers —but fewer than 41% of all undergraduates do.

Not everyone in the field believes the practice is misleading or even deliberate.

“The numbers are what they are, but there are so many reasons why it might be happening,” said Megan McClean, managing director of policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. She points to circumstantial changes that could lead to diminished aid, such as a family’s financial situation improving, and upperclassmen who transfer to another school and need less grant money.

“I don’t think it’s intentional,” McClean said.

A 2013 report by the NSPA urged that financial aid administrators disclose to families of students whether they practice front-loading or not, either in person or in financial aid award letters.

McClean said her organization “encourages parents and students to talk up front” with colleges about their financial aid packages. But Kantrowitz said they may not get an honest answer.

“Schools aren’t necessarily open about this,” he said. He has attended meetings, he said, at which parents ask school officials if they front-load their financial aid packages, and the “school acts dumb. They prevaricate.”

Earlier clarity would have helped Garcia. After scrambling to fill the gap left by her diminished aid, Garcia got financial help from Bright Prospect, a nonprofit that assists high-achieving, low-income students, and graduated in 2013. She now works for the organization, managing scholarships, and said she sees a lot of students in a similar position. “The first year looks amazing,” she said, “and then, from the second year on, the financial aid goes down, and the loans increase.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education

TIME Environment

Will California’s Drought Mean More Expensive Jeans?

California is a big producer of high-end cotton

Drought and water shortages could push California’s cotton acreage to its lowest levels since the early 1930s, and that could become a problem for yet another industry that the state currently dominates—high-end apparel manufacturing.

California accounts for most of the U.S. production of an economically important, high-end type of cotton called Pima. A reduction in the crop could spell trouble for the local apparel makers—many of them in Los Angeles—that are already bracing for the state’s first mandatory water reductions.

“There’s going to be some major impacts into our company, primarily as a result of the water problems that…

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TIME

Chicago Cardinal Francis George Dies at Age 78

Cardinal Francis George sits for an interview on Oct. 20, 2014 at the Cardinal's Residence in Chicago.
Brian Cassella—Chicago Tribune/TNS/Getty Images Cardinal Francis George sits for an interview on Oct. 20, 2014 at the Cardinal's Residence in Chicago.

(CHICAGO) — Cardinal Francis George, a vigorous defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy who played a key role in the church’s response to the clergy sex abuse scandal, has died. He was 78.

The Chicago archdiocese says George died Friday after a long fight with cancer.

Appointed to lead the archdiocese in 1997, George became a leading figure of his era in the American church.

He oversaw the contentious new English-language translation of the Roman Missal, one of the biggest changes in Catholic worship in generations. In 2002, at the height of the sex-abuse crisis, he led a group of U.S. bishops who persuaded Vatican officials to more quickly oust guilty priests.

George also spearheaded the fight among bishops against President Barack Obama’s health insurance plan, arguing it allow taxpayer money for abortion.

TIME Crime

This Town Has 1 Cop for Every 2 Residents

An Oakley police car on March 14, 2014 in Oakley, Mich.
Jeff Schrier—AP An Oakley police car in Oakley, Mich., on March 14, 2014 .

And one of them might be Kid Rock

A town in Michigan with a population of just 300 has roughly 150 police officers in an alleged “pay-to-play” scheme that allows reserve officers to get around the state’s gun restrictions.

The town of Oakley, Mich., has dozens of people apply to become cops in the tiny town, The Guardian reports, among them rapper Kid Rock, a football player for the Miami Dolphins, and various Michigan businessmen.

Those accepted to become reserve officers, who pay sums of up to $4,000 to join the force, are then authorized to carry firearms in places that generally ban them, like schools and bars. The Saginaw News reported that the law enforcement agency had raised almost $250,000 from 2008 to 2014.

The allegations are part of a lawsuit intended to make the Oakley police force more transparent. A lawyer involved in the case told the Guardian that all the reservists but one live at least 90 minutes drive from the town.

Reserve officers have come under scrutiny in recent weeks after the apparent accidental shooting of Eric Harris by Robert Bates, a 73-year-old volunteer deputy in Tulsa, Okla. Harris was shot and killed by Bates, who said he meant to use his Taser instead of his gun.

[Guardian]

TIME Crime

Baby Shot in Head in Apparent Road Rage Case, Police Say

The baby girl was in "very critical condition" on Friday, a day after the shooting

(SEATTLE) — Police in the Seattle suburb of Kent say a 1-year-old girl was shot in the head as she sat in a car with her parents in what is described as an apparent case of road rage.

Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the baby girl was in “very critical condition” in Seattle on Friday, a day after the shooting.

Kent police spokeswoman Melanie Robinson says the child was in a car seat in the back of a silver Chevrolet Impala and her parents were in the front seat when a black car pulled alongside around 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Robinson says the driver and passenger of the black car opened fire, then drove off.

Police didn’t offer details on the possible conflict.

The shooting took place at an intersection near an apartment complex.

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