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27.5.10

Legislature must facilitate charter-like school standards

Elementary and secondary test scores are out in Louisiana, providing more evidence that an approach leaning on charter schools is creating success and raises questions as to why some legislators want to hamper something that works.


Overall, the state averages on the fourth grade LEAP, eighth grade LEAP, and high school GEE (soon to be replaced by end-of-course tests) showed minor fluctuations in a slightly positive direction. At the individual level, some interesting results popped that bear further investigation as to finding superior methods or launching corrective efforts – such as what did the City of Bogalusa do to improve its LEAP result so much, or why did Catahoula have such significant drops, and what’s up with the stunning declines in St. Helena (a loss of 10 percent passing for eighth graders, but an incredible drop from 64 percent pass rate among fourth graders last year to just 1 percent this year).


But the larger picture presented charter school impact as its biggest story. Most of the state’s charter schools are in Orleans Parish, either in its district (three-quarters of the dozen schools) or the Recovery District (a little over half of 70). The former produced small LEAP losses but maintained itself as one of the highest-averaging districts in the state, and with the latter (where the extraordinarily troubled schools were placed) having both levels at 50 percent or better pass and placed among the larger improvement gains in the state. For the RSD, charter school students passed at a rate 50 percent higher than in traditional schools, while for the OPSD the pad was 13 percent more passage charter school students to traditional school students.


This confirms trends from last year and points to adopting charter-like standards, which give greater administrative latitude, as the key to these successes among student groupings that showed little of this without this additional discretion by schools. Yet as the legislative session gets closer to the end, bills that would facilitate charter-like operations are not the slam dunks that this data would suggest they should be.


HB 1368 by state Rep. Jane Smith which would apply these standards to all schools by their request has made its way through the House but still faces uncertain Senate tests. Further, SB 492 by state Sen. Ben Nevers would put a chilling effect on governance of charter schools by requiring members of their boards (all must have one) to file ethics disclosures, and has only House passage left to be sent to the governor. Fortunately, other threatening bills to curtail charter school autonomy seem unlikely to go anywhere.


The recent results demonstrate the charter model needs expansion and not discouragement. Passage of Smith’s bill and denying Nevers’ would allow the state to build upon the model that so far has been a major component to the slow but steady improvement in Louisiana education.

26.5.10

Legislators sell out individual rights by nixing smoking ban

Sad to say, but when select members of Louisiana’s House of Representatives had a chance to affirm individual rights, they appeared to have sold out over revenue concerns.


The House Health and Welfare Committee extinguished SB 348 by Sen. Rob Marionneaux which would have prohibited smoking in any indoor facility over which the state has total sovereignty. Members voting to defer involuntarily the bill did not speak publicly about their reasons why, but it seemed clear that by denying smoking in bars and most parts of gaming operations licensed by the state they feared it would curtail business at those establishments.


One could make an argument that limiting business particularly in casinos could be a good thing, but these establishments pump in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in state and local taxes. It’s possible that, given this volume, even a relatively small portion of business lost could cost the state at least $10 million in tax revenues, although many studies dispute whether there is any loss at all as people adjust their smoking habits to compensate and others who previously refused to patronize these places begin to do so motivated without having to put up with the annoyance of smoking.


But even if it is believable that revenues will take a hit over the bill, there are arguments against taking lucre over other concerns. While the bill’s main proponents couched their support in terms of health concerns, a more compelling point is that to allow smoking in these public places to continue violates both civil liberties and civil rights concerns.


Regarding civil liberties, it becomes a question of competing rights. One group wishes to smoke in public establishments to fulfill an addiction while another does not want to deal with the deleterious effects of the smoke. Such desires are mutually exclusive when in a public indoor space, so a decision has to be made which group to favor.


On the side of smokers, you could argue that it restricts their ability to indulge and if that bothers others, they don’t have to be around that by not patronizing such establishments where it occurs. However, a more compelling case is on the side of disallowing smoking, because some people suffer from pulmonary disorders that cause immediate, even fatal, distress when encountering cigarette or cigar smoke. In effect, these people cannot patronize certain places of public commerce because they are not physically able to be in those places where smoking occurs. And, given unregulated market dictates, this essentially shuts them out from being in casinos or establishments that offer alcohol but that do not serve a certain amount of food.


In fact, while this group’s only option to choose is never to be able to patronize these places, smokers have a wider range of less intrusive choices. Since their behavior is not a matter of their own health, they may choose not to smoke in smoke-free places or not to patronize them. Given that this matter is one of life or death for some and not one for smokers, and that smokers may exercise a greater range of choice even with enforcement of non-smoking regulations than the greater restrictions foisted on others by the allowing of smoking, the lesser burden is placed upon those who want to smoke and therefore their rights should be subordinate to the rights of those who can’t remain healthy with smoke around.


The civil rights argument is even more compelling to ban smoking. People with pulmonary problems (ironically, some having gotten that way likely because of smoking) to a severe degree are legally disabled under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This federal law mandates that reasonable accommodation be made to the disabled by the purveyors of public commerce. It seems entirely reasonable to ban smoking in any indoor facility under these guidelines. An alternative would be to allow smoking outside of a facility, meaning a bar. For example, one could build a patio area connected by a door into the building and allow smoking out there, like some restaurants do already. This would be akin to building ramps, wider doors, etc. to accommodate the disabled.


Given the existing attitudes of too many legislators, perhaps proponents of banning smoking should file a lawsuit in federal court under the ADA if there’s going to be progress made. In any event, it is shameful that a few House members chose to endorse, for whatever reason, a failure to secure the civil liberties and to protect civil rights of some of society’s most vulnerable members.

25.5.10

Oil leak crisis final nail in Obama liberalism coffin?

Is the continuing oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana the final nail in the coffin for the country’s short-lived infatuation with the notion of government as the omnipotent provider of all things good?


It took an unhappy series of events to put Pres. Barack Obama and his vision of barely-restrained liberalism in the White House: a Republican Party that had been retreating from the conservative antidote to this, small but prolonged and nagging foreign conflicts that taxed a nation historically impatient in the realm of international affairs, and economic problems prompted by liberalism’s own prescriptions but whose followers won a public relations battle to shield themselves from the blame. Add to that the trait that the American public by and large doesn’t pay much attention to politics and then only episodically and few of it understand history and economics, and the rare condition emerged.


However, reality glares harshly and cannot be changed by fiat, no matter how slickly or forcefully the alternatives to it are presented. Eventually, the contradictions of policy versus reality have become so invasive into people’s lives that increasingly they and more of them perceive the vastness between what was promised and what is reality. That has been an ongoing process relative to the Obama Administration since its inception, and the predictable political deterioration has been surprising only by its rate of acceleration, for as a pendulum is drawn further back, its speed to swing back increases dramatically.


Of course, the policy failures based upon the belief that big government knows better than do people what to do with their resources have mounted for Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress: horrifically high spending levels that have retarded economic performance, continue to nudge unemployment higher, and promise crippling inflation in the future; financially ruinous changes in health care provision laws designed to empower ultimately government and the expense of the quality of people’s health care; catering to special interests such as unions, unscientific environmentalism, those who blame America first for any evil in the world, etc.; foreign policy that embraces enemies and chastises friends – and this represents only what has come into being, not what has been sidetracked. The fundamental wrongness of these policies has been realized in an increasing number of Americans’ consciousnesses, resulting in declining poll numbers and a growing sense of catastrophe at the polls for Democrats in November.


Yet the month-long gushing of oil into the Gulf may end up as the straw that breaks the camel’s back, clarifying the invalidity of Obama’s claims. Obama has overpromised again and again, believing that if he says something often and forcefully enough that enough people will buy it to allow his ilk to maintain enough power to keep remaking America into something it is not. His shtick rests on propagating the myth that government knows better than people how to order their lives and to produce prosperity, based on the false beliefs that free enterprise inherently produces unjust results and thereby those who acquire wealth from it must be penalized to atone, that societal institutions need government-directed reform to create equality, and that these poison our relations with other peoples so that we put our presumably selfish interests ahead of those of humanity, leading to oppression of the world.


But the oil keeps spewing. Commissions are formed, hearings held, threats and made against the industry and withdrawn, the rhetoric continues but so does the impotence of the federal government. The oil keeps coming out, and the eyes of the people open more to the fact this is one more promise not kept by Obama’s big government philosophy.


Worse for Obama is that he is getting shown up by Gov. Bobby Jindal. While exhorting for the problem to be solved, sometimes with critical language, Jindal has been taking action even when the federal government seems balky. In doing so at a macro level, Jindal has been presenting a contrasting view of the role of government – to act only under well-defined and limited situations, instead of as an intrusive agent claimed to solve all problems and said to provide for individuals desires, even if people have the capacity to provide for themselves. Most of the American public won’t conceptualize it to that degree, only vaguely aware of Jindal, but they will process at a micro level that Jindal is doing something reasonable to deliver, abjuring use of the incident as an assault on the oil industry in particular and the free enterprise system in general as Obama and Democrats are doing.


When asked to evaluate political philosophy, most Americans, who just want to get on with their lives, can be quite slow on the uptake and preternaturally drawn to the simplistic bromides of liberalism. But experience helps them to inculcate the complex verities of conservatism, and this event may be the one that crystallizes in their minds the limitations and false promises of liberalism to lead to its decisive rejection at the very least now and perhaps far into the future. If there is a silver lining to this looming economic and ecological disaster, that is it.

24.5.10

AZ controversy overshadows current, needed LA laws


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Even as the left’s victimization industry creates another rationale for its existence with its latest cause célèbre, what was Arizona’s S.B. 1070 that specifies how the state’s law enforcement officials may inquire as to the status of a person’s citizenship status, Louisiana has had a very similar law that has generated zero controversy and may add another.

In 2002, the state enacted today’s R.S. 14:100.13. Like the Arizona law, it applies only to non-citizens. Like the Arizona law, production of a legal driver’s license means the law does not apply to the person involved. Unlike the Arizona law, production of a “green card” alone will not prevent the law from being evoked, because it involves the driver only whereas the Arizona law can apply to all passengers. Unlike the Arizona law, “profiling” is not expressly prohibited. Unlike the Arizona law, it is not a secondary offense, in that the law does not expressly tie its enforcement to a legal traffic stop by authorities.

In fact, except for that it applies only to the operation of a motor vehicle and thereby excludes passengers, Louisiana’s law can be considered more far-reaching than Arizona’s. It carries more similarities with the federal law (8USC1304(e)) which adopts no standard for such enforcement, not even the standard of reasonable suspicion, and requires no lawful stop precedent to such inquiry.

23.5.10

Ethics Board, not judge panel, to blame for odd decision

A controversial decision on campaign finance illustrates exactly why the recent reforms to the process were desperately needed, and what further reforms are necessary.


Until the past couple of years, the Louisiana Board of Ethics acted as prosecutor, judge, and jury concerning all allegations of political ethics violations, including campaign finance matters. This invited several problems: members of the board were not required to have any legal background, so they had no expertise in these matters; thus, they were unduly dependent upon their staff for advice that could sway decisions potentially in politicized directions; members were political appointees directly by the governor and each chamber of the Legislature and thereby liable to be pressured by these politicians; fairness for the accused was questionable with the Board acting both as prosecutor and judge even if no intended bias was present.


Then, legal changes shifted the adjudication process into the hands of the state’s Division of Administrative Law. Now, charges are heard by trained lawyers with administrative law experience who are civil servants and are protected from political interference, chosen at random annually to sit as a potential judges and chosen randomly from among this pool to hear cases. The only political appointee involved is their superior several layers up who is chosen by the governor with Senate assent for a fixed six-year term.


But one suggestion for continued improvement of the system would be to allow the Board of Ethics, like any prosecutor, to be able to appeal cases, and an Apr. 24 decision by an EAB added fuel to that fire – although, interestingly, in this instance it appears to back the desire not because of a strange decision but because the Board itself dropped the ball. In the matter of the Louisiana Justice Fund, outrage was sparked when an EAB ruled that this organization, a creature of the Democratic Attorney Generals Association Inc. which ran highly negative ads about state Attorney General Republican candidate Royal Alexander in the 2007 race, did not knowingly violate law when they failed to report the expenditure in several ways.


Alexander (a former law judge himself) criticized the decision, noting, if anybody, that a group of a bunch of high-profile lawyers ought to be able to figure out Louisiana law in this instance. However, the EAB reviewed the evidence and determined that while the ad in question did represent campaign speech and was covered, the entity was something that had to file, and the entity was in violation, that the entity did not have to pay a penalty if the reports were not filed by the end of last Friday (no record of the filing is evident but the Louisiana Ethics Administration Program may not have posted it yet).


The EAB was explicit in why it would not impose penalties immediately for the past offense: “There was no evidence presented by the Board of Ethics as to LJF’s knowledge that it was required to file the reports,” and then goes into a detailed footnote of why it concluded that, according to the vagaries of Louisiana statute, the Board had not met this burden of proof. In fact, the Board’s staff, it was noted, called no witnesses, a process that could have revealed that there was knowledge of these reporting requirements.


So understand that the reason for high dudgeon from various Board members is to hide the embarrassing fact they sabotaged their own case by not being thorough – a lacking which has been intimated from the results of others previous cases as well. This should not be surprising that, with the agency having been all of prosecutor, judge, and jury for so long, a true adversarial process had been unavailable to sharpen the agency’s skills in providing compelling cases to neutral third parties. And it points to the fact that the quality of decisions as a result of the change probably therefore have improved (as a point of reference, compare the sophistication of the decision in this case as to that of a high-profile case in the recent past decided by the Board).


Nevertheless, even if somebody is right for the wrong reason, they’re still right, in this instance that this incident supports the idea of appeal authority should be granted to the Board. Particularly where a law judge panel is going to rule on the substance of statute – as it did in parsing Louisiana law to determine the standard for “knowingly” – such a case deserves to enter into the regular state judiciary.


Legislation to do this as well as to lengthen the terms of the administrative law judges assigned to hear ethics matters (to allow them to develop more expertise) in these cases sits within the Legislature this session. The amending process can be used to define better “knowingly” so as to keep that out of the hands of judges of any kind in the first place. So far the bills (HB 1179 and HB 1202) granting appeal power gather dust. Such changes deserve to pass into law this session that, besides creating better jurisprudence, will save the Board from its own shortcomings.