by Inlander Staff

Bikes to Africa -- MOSCOW, Idaho -- Some bikes from the Inland Northwest are serving a new purpose in Accra, the capital of Ghana. The Village Bicycle Project, which operates out of Moscow, has so far sent 2,049 bikes to the African nation. Already, more are needed.

"We ship two containers a year, with 425 bikes in each container. In the last shipment, 220 were collected on the Palouse alone," says David Peckham, the program coordinator. "Other bikes come from Seattle."

The Village Bicycle Project would like to expand its operations to the Spokane area, but there are a few logistical problems that need to be solved first.

"It's a little tricky. The Inland Northwest Peace Corps is trying to collect bikes for us in Spokane," says Peckham. "But if we are going to start collecting in Spokane, we'll need trucks and drivers to take the bikes to Seattle, and storage in Spokane."

Peckham says the project has been very successful.

"A bike is affordable transportation that does not depend on petroleum products. Gaining skills to repair bikes helps the poor of Africa," says Peckham. "I think we need to be helping raise the livelihood of people in the rest of the world in an appropriate way."

The Village Bicycle Project can be reached at 208-892-2681.

Problem Gambling -- SPOKANE -- Gambling is entertainment for most people, but it can turn into an addictive and destructive lifestyle for some. An estimated 127,900 Washington residents are "Problem or Pathological Gamblers," according to recent studies.

Washington began its first program to treat problem gamblers in November of last year. The state legislature funds the program with a portion of the revenue from the lottery's new multi-state game. The Washington State Council on Problem Gambling (WSCPG) is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to helping gambling addicts and their families overcome the addictive behavior.

"We are gratified that the legislature provided funding for problem gambling treatment services as part of its decision to expand the lottery," says Gary Hanson, executive director of WSCPG. So far, the program has been overwhelmed with demand for treatment. In two months, 148 people have been referred to the WSCPG.

According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, the societal costs of problem gambling reach up to $5 billion annually.

"This brings Washington State into line with many other states, such as Oregon, which fund Problem Gambling treatment services from gambling dollars," says Hanson.

The Problem Gambling Helpline can be reached at 800-547-6133.

Charters Again? -- Olympia, Wash. -- A hearing before the Washington State Legislature is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28th, concerning the latest bill seeking to legalize charter schools. It's an updated version of the 1998 bill, which gained the support of Governor Gary Locke and other key legislative leaders -- but which still ultimately failed.

Charter schools are public schools that are operated on a contractual agreement between a nonprofit corporation (whose purpose is for public benefit only) and local school districts, state or regional universities.

"The key aspect of the bill is to authorize independent public schools that are separate, legal entities, and not a part of the school district," says Jim Spady, co-director of Education Excellence Coalition and a charter school supporter.

Every charter school bill brought to the legislature has failed since 1995, making Washington one of only 11 states without a charter school law. Charter schools have been legal in Idaho since 1998 and in Oregon since 1999.

When asked what makes this bill different, Spady says it's the people in Olympia, not the bill.

"The bill is essentially the same as the one proposed in 1998. But we've got the best chance ever," says Spady. "It will take a lot of work; Republicans only have a one-vote majority, but if it makes it to the floor, it'll pass." Spady adds that the House has passed charter school bills four times since 1995, but continuing resistance by key senators has prevented charter school laws from passing.

Charter schools are controversial because opponents say they will drain public school funding. Proponents say charter schools just add more options for parents and students, thereby improving the quality of student learning.

Northwest Winterfest @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Fridays, 5-8 p.m., Saturdays, 4-8 p.m. and Sundays, 3-6 p.m. Continues through Jan. 1
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