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Parent trigger use warns complacent school boards

A move to institute a charter school in East Feliciana parish shows how far the educational reform ethos has come in Louisiana and the tension it continues to introduce between families and interests backing traditional state-monopoly schools.

Last week, the process began for the conversion of Slaughter Elementary School, a traditional government-run school, into a charter school. It involved an enhanced use of the “parent trigger,” which allows families to wrest a public school from local governance and have it run by a nonprofit entity, contracted either to the local district or with the state.

When Louisiana conducted a massive overhaul of its educational system in the direction of school choice in 2012, the dramatic changes overshadowed parent trigger provisions included. And what little publicity these received focused on parents’ ability on their own to convert low-performing schools in R.S. 17:10.5.


Temper tantrums remind why left lost all power

In case anyone had forgotten what propelled the reelection of Republican Congressional majorities and the GOP capturing of the White House three months ago, activity at a town hall meeting in Metairie for Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy provided a reminder.

Political opponents of Cassidy converged at the location, strategically arriving early enough to pack the venue. During the event, they filibustered against Cassidy’s issue preferences and others imputed from GOP Pres. Donald Trump, rudely shouting down attempts to explain when those veered from their party line. In all, it replicated a pattern seen at a handful of other such meetings involving politicians in prominent positions of reforming the excesses of the former Pres. Barack Obama era – in Cassidy’s case, by his sponsorship of a reasonable alternative to the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Recognize that little in the way of reason or intellect marked the screed launched by the militants. This reflects the state of liberalism in America today, that has seen over the past half century constant erosion of its validity, as history and analysis increasingly demonstrates its bankruptcy. Only raw emotion remains, where liberalism as an ideology now centers on invalid assertions repeated often and forcefully enough will grant its views legitimacy, despite what we have learned by experiencing liberalism in action – as its rejection at all levels of government culminating in last year’s elections demonstrated.


Solomon White pleasing everybody, nobody

Perhaps Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education John White should change his first name to “Solomon,” such as it seems he has tried to thread a needle in recent policy decisions.

During his tenure as the executive responsible for carrying out the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s mandates, White has shown marked preference for expansion of school choice as a means to improve delivery quality, and also backing ever-escalating accountability standards. Typically, this has pitted interests who focus on increasing achievement as a means of spurring economic development and improving life prospects against those invested in a one-size-fits-all model that advocates for increased inputs into the system that disproportionately flow to state-run providers and their allies.

Typically, the former group has supported his efforts while the latter has opposed White. Yet a few recent decisions by him have scrambled alliances, sometimes putting those who see progress as inducing greater efficiency out of schools in the same camp as those who view as best a state system monopolizing education flush with cash, for and against him.


GOP legislative leaders control deficit deal fate

Although a deal seems afoot to resolve Louisiana’s latest budgetary shortfall, what if it doesn’t come off?

The special session that ends legally tomorrow Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards called to close the gap. That came about beginning when on Jan. 27 the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget confirmed a $304 million general fund deficit existed.

At that point, according to the Constitution and fleshed out in statute, Edwards had the option (the word “may” features prominently in all language regarding procedures in this instance) of making cuts on his own, with JLCB blessing, of up to three percent per budget unit for most appropriated spending. If he can close the gap to seven-tenths of a percent – almost $63 million in this instance, he can ratchet that shaving of up to five percent in most instances.


Citizens deserve improved LA endowment metrics

It doesn’t help Louisiana’s higher education in general make the case that it should garner increased subsidization by taxpayers when in aggregate institutions’ endowments shrunk in a positive investing environment.

Disturbingly, a number of institutions’ academic foundations – legally separate fund-raising arms but controlled by their beneficiary institutions – reported not just losses for the past fiscal year, but in many cases these extended losses from prior years. This does not include athletic foundations. For example, the state’s largest endowment by far – the Louisiana State University Foundation – lost in the past two fiscal years 5.2 percent in investments, even as in this time span the total system funding eked out a small rise in total assets under the leadership of former Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret, who departed towards the end of the period.

That his investment acumen fell much short of his fundraising prowess seems shared across several other Louisiana universities that reported much similar losing results. Former Commissioner of Higher Education and present president of the University of Louisiana Lafayette Joseph Savoie, whose school’s foundation also suffered investment losses, inappropriately blamed fickle markets: “The endowment tends to follow the market. It goes up, and it goes down, depending on the overall performance of the market.”


Planetary partisan divide continues on LA budget

It bears repeating, in a little different way: the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration and Democrat legislators are from Mars, Republican legislators are from Venus.

That became painfully obvious in yesterday’s special session meeting of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee in questioning and testimony by members of Edwards Administration officials. Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne stumped for Edwards’ plan to use nearly $120 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund. He conceived this as a bridge to further fiscal reform that Legislature intends to investigate during its regular session in two months.

Dardenne bases this strategy on the recommendations forwarded by the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, which looks at how Louisiana collects revenues. To him, “structural deficit” describes the inability to gather as much revenue as necessary to fund what Edwards wants to spend.


State must expand school choice in Caddo

It’s time for Louisiana’s Department of Education to intervene more forcefully with struggling Caddo Parish schools.

After some period of treading water, CPSD as a whole took a step backwards last year as it slid solidly into ‘C’ territory (in absolute terms; for years "grading" of schools has occurred on a curve) according to the state’s district accountability measure. What comfort came from its overall performance as not absolutely dismal hides the fact that a majority of its schools rank as ‘D’ or ‘F’ and these enroll over half of all district students.

Yet despite a history of having a significant portion of its school performing below par, unlike the other two major metropolitan districts in the state little educational choice developed in the parish. The state oversees only one charter school there, Linwood, and only three charters operate independently (one with two campuses). Several other schools operate under a memorandum of understanding model that leaves the district in charge of these but having to meet certain objectives negotiated by the state.


Edwards, GOP legislators live on different planets

Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards is from Mars, legislative Republicans are from Venus. I chose the ordering since Edwards once served as a professional warrior and some GOP legislators are women. I chose the metaphor to illustrate the completely incompatible mindset of the two that threatens to launch fireworks during the state’s whirlwind special session.

Edwards pulled the starting gun trigger on it last night by speaking mainly to the virtues of using Budget Stabilization Fund Money. As policy-makers grapple with a $304 million deficit fighting a ticking clock registering just four-and-a-half months remaining in the fiscal year, use of the Fund has emerged as the biggest point of contention between the governor and Republican-led Legislature to solve for the shortfall.

In the speech, Edwards noted the short time frame and his belief that a straitjacketed fiscal structure begging for reform presented few options other than use of $119.6 million in Fund money. Citing its creation as a means to address short-term budgetary crunches and past use in what he saw as less critical times, failure to dip into it he alleged would force undesirable cuts into areas his current plan using Fund money to close the gap would avoid. He argued that, past this hurdle, soon the state could start attending to fiscal reform that should alleviate such problems in the future.