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4.1.07

Will Democrats show true selves in McCrery dispute?

The dispute concerning the qualification of U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery to take his seat in the House finally has reached its proper venue. How it gets resolved will test how much national Democrats would like to obscure their true agenda.

Republican McCrery’s Democrat opponents claim he is not a resident of Louisiana, and thereby not entitled to be seated in the House even if duly elected. He did take the oath of office but the House can unseat him (or any member on these grounds, by a majority vote now held by Democrats) at any time.

His case will test the Democrat assertion, already being contradicted by their pushing through their legislative agenda without any discussion (in contrast to the Republicans’ 1995 Contract with America package that was fully debated), that they mean to be more transparent and bipartisan than the Republican majority they replaced. If they really meant this, McCrery’s case will be dismissed in short order, for his residency practices in this case are no different than many other members.’

But congressional Democrats often have shown they inhabit a world out of touch with real life and the American public. Many refuse to acknowledge the reality that they grabbed more seats in 2006 not because people supported their liberal agenda, but because they rejected the Republicans’ moderate direction, as indicated by the content of the agenda they will try to ram through in the next couple of weeks.

And, they have shown a past willingness to force their preferences onto the very electorates they claim to represent. In 1984, the Democrat-controlled House literally stole an election for themselves in Indiana’s Eight District. In all their hubris and disconnection to the American people, they may think they can do it again in the case of McCrery.

Any protracted disposition of this case, much less a usurpation of power by unseating him and calling for a new election, will help to uncloak the false veneer of the Democrats and reaffirm to a public partly fooled by their electioneering that they do not promote the best interests of Americans.

3.1.07

Study shows pay raises would hardly improve education

Another report about education, another opportunity to demonstrate the poor level at which education is being performed in Louisiana. But the press accounts gloss over the important details that tell us why the state, by their metrics, is doing so poorly, and what to do or not to do about it.

Sure, Louisiana overall finishes next-to-last in the Education Week and its partners study. But unless one probes the inner details of the report, you wouldn’t know that in one area of indicators, Louisiana ranks very highly. The Education Counts study has two sets of indicators, empirical ones measuring student performance, and political ones reflecting the presence or absence of policies the study’s authors believe make for successful education.

On the empirical measurements, the state does poorly, even shockingly. For example, on proficiency measure the state ranks at about two-thirds the average of other states. But on the policy measures, the state does well. It ranks in the middle of an index to measure alignment of education policy to outcomes, and in terms student standards, assessments, and school accountability, Louisiana ranks the highest of all the states. But by contrast, on the index presumably measuring “chance-for-success” (essentially, economic indicators), the state is almost last.

In other words, Louisiana has the correct policies in place to produce superior performance, but something is interfering with its actual achievement. The success indicators point out why – if properly understood. One common error made by rafts of politicians and pundits in this analysis is the simplistic belief that poverty somehow causes lower educational achievement. This represents a mistake in understanding causation, because poverty is only associated with low achievement, but does not cause it: in other words, the two are related to the same causal agent but not theoretically related themselves.

That similar causal agent is attitudes about efforts to succeed and achieve. Simply, poverty is not defined by the lack of resources, it is defined by the lack of will to want to achieve more resources (as the dismal failure of throwing money at the problem that lay behind the “War on Poverty” has shown). Bad luck and the like certainly hold people back in moving out of poverty, but the influence of these pales in comparison in general to that played by the role that attitudes that are not conducive to gaining wealth; for example, preferring spending in the present rather than saving and investing for the future, unwillingness to work hard, unwillingness to start menially and working one’s way up the economic ladder, etc.

Most relevant to Louisiana’s case is a voluntary dependency, or an attitude that one need not take responsibility for his own station in life but, rather, let somebody else or the government do it for them. The scourge of populism that has plagued Louisiana is a direct indicator of this attitude, and has created a bloated government that looks more towards the redistribution of wealth than empowering people to create it. In turn, this saps efforts to achieve and creates an attitude of dependency. So we must understand that poverty does not create poor education, but that common inferior attitudes about achievement and individual responsibility (perpetuated by government policy outside of education in Louisiana’s case) create, separately, both poverty and poor achievement.

Further, one policy change that would make little difference is giving pay raises to teachers. Understand the nature of the disconnection here revealed in the report: the policies are good, the performance is bad. Thus, it is the mechanism that performs the education that is at faulty – schools generally, but teachers in particular. The solution to this is not pay raises – that theory ridiculously argues that, overnight with more money in hand, suddenly every teacher becomes better – but in ensuring knowledgeable, capable teachers are in the classroom.

Interestingly, the report did not judge states on the basis of whether they had a crucial mechanism in ensuring this condition – regular assessment of teachers’ knowledge of the subject areas they teach. This goes way beyond the false prophylactic of “certification:” it means the regular testing of teachers. More and more states are adopting this commonsense regulation despite resistance from teachers’ unions bent on getting more money for with less effort put out by their members.

Even more interestingly, a comparison of Louisiana with the report’s top state, Virginia, shows why pay alone is meaningless in determining quality. In their region, Louisiana ranks fifth from the bottom while Virginia is only fourth from the top in terms of pay. In fact, Virginia is a good $3,000 below the national average in pay. Further, adjusting for cost of living in each state’s metropolitan areas (where the majority of education occurs), the cost of living in Virginia is 12 percent higher, meaning, when salaries are thereby adjusted, Louisiana teachers’ salaries on average are only about $1,000 below those in Virginia. Clearly, the narrow pay differential has little to do with the gulf in quality.

This is why, when the issue inevitably resurfaces in the regular session of the Louisiana Legislature this year, teacher pay raises without any corresponding demand for increased accountability of them is asinine. Any raise must be tied into accountability; for example, administering a test of subject area knowledge, combining this with student achievement results, and basing future raises on performance measured this way. Such a regime won’t solve all problems, but it will put the state in the right direction, dealing with the real issue behind why Louisiana educational achievement lags.

2.1.07

Intriguing redistricting options appear on LA's horizon

As if the stakes needed any more raising for this year’s elections, U.S. Census Bureau estimates released late last month confirm that the next governor and state legislature will fight a tremendous redistricting battle – making the outcome of those elections even more crucial.

Almost a year and a half ago a Cabinet member predicted that by the 2010 census New Orleans would contain perhaps 375,000 people. The latest figures suggest that might even be a hard target to reach. With a state population loss of almost 220,000 (net migration actually 241,000), compared to the most recent estimates that the four most affected parishes of Hurricane Katrina have lost about 254,000 people, considering some have relocated elsewhere in the state it’s hard to see Orleans Parish having more than 200,000 people (close to the estimate of late last year) as of now.

The trend of 18 months ago now seems confirmed, meaning the state will lose as congressional seat. As I have pointed out before, given electoral geography and judicial rulings on the subject, Louisiana well may lose its only black-majority district, the Second. The only way to keep one would be to draw a crazy-looking district primarily on the basis of race the concept of which has been invalidated by the courts.

Enthusiasm to tempt the courts may be tempered by who wins the 2007 elections. This is because 2010 results will be released about the time the 2011 regular session kicks off, allowing redistricting to proceed. Chances are not good the state would force the issue if Republicans manage to win both majoritarian branches. But all it really would take would be a Republican governor to veto a Democrat Legislature’s choice, or the threatened use of a veto, to produce a GOP tilt to the process.

The political situation becomes even more convoluted when considering the 2011 session also would determine the districting for state offices. Just as the Second District may disappear as a result of the demographic changes, so may several Orleans-area legislative districts, disproportionately lowering black and even Democrat representation in the Legislature. Republicans can maximize this if they control the chambers.

Even more intriguingly, the resolution of this may come through a rupture on racial lines to the detriment of the Democrats. Again, especially if a Republican occupies then governor’s office, he could bargain between white and black Democrats in what still means the loss of a Democrat seat. Given existing numbers, to the white legislators, he could offer carving up the Second District and move black Democrats into the Third (strengthening the narrow electoral majority Democrats currently hold in it, the only district with a white Democrat elected to the U.S. House). To the black legislators, he could offer to carve up the Third in an attempt to create a district that may not be majority black but wouldn’t be far off. By separating support for each other for each set of Democrats, the new Louisiana would continue to have six GOP seats but just one Democrat seat regardless of which side prevailed.

And, holding out state legislative district majorities as a bargaining chip gives the governor still more power, particularly since the Legislature will have a relatively close partisan balance. A skilled governor would be able to let the opposition have more of one kind of seat in order to get the other kind for his party. A Democrat gubernatorial win probably would not preserve the loss of a Congressional district by its party, given the post-storm demographic realities, but it could blunt GOP gains in legislative redistricting. A Republican win would just accelerate them. Thus, the stakes in the upcoming governor’s contest go even higher.

31.12.06

LA needs federal prodding to do right health care thing

And another way Louisiana is behind the curve is in its continued resistance to revamping health care in a way that maximizes outcomes for reduced cost. Of course, missing the deadline to institute changes for 2007 in health care delivery is also partly due to the legendary inefficiency in Louisiana’s government getting services provided (such as Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s choice of administrators of the Road Home Progam), but the lion’s share of blame rests with the politics-as-usual emphasis by its politicians.

“Politics-as-usual” in the case of health care delivery in Louisiana means an overemphasis and bias on institutional- rather than community- or individual-based health care solutions. This is why the state’s health care redesign effort continues to try to force feed a questionable “medical home” plan that shovels money first to institutions rather than a “money-follows-the-person” model that shifts it to the individual or his representatives that other states have been adopting.

Two factors explain why Louisiana remains so obstinate. First, there is the inertia of the ultimate institutional model of health care, the charity hospital system that only Louisiana insists on having. Despite generally worse outcomes from it, because of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it and the tens of thousands of jobs tied into it, those that have a finger in this pie and the politicians they have courted to support it continue to defend it and thus resist dismantling it.