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False alarm obscures hospital privatization savings

A false alarm should not detract from the fact that, to this point, privatization efforts of Louisiana’s charity hospital system are pulling in more revenue than predicted, although vigilance will be required to ensure the realized savings do not get overcommitted and prematurely in years to come.

Some unnecessary anxiety came from one media source when it breathlessly reported from an item in an in-house publication put out quarterly by the Legislative Fiscal Office, which is attached to the Legislature to analyze the fiscal impact of legislation. The LFO claimed that existing cooperative endeavor agreements signed with the operators of state hospitals were supposed to generate over $140 million for the state, but predicted only $101 million or so would materialized, leaving the actual intake $38.75 million short. This money was assigned to pay for several budgetary items out of a pool where 70 percent would go to higher education.

But the LFO report was dated and not privy to inside information, leaving an erroneous impression. First, it was not even sure about its figures because it printed that one CEA remained unresolved, that for Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville. But last week those details, apparently overlooked by LFO staff or happened too late to include in the online PDF version, were finalized, in that the takeover there would not occur until the beginning of FY 2015. Thus, the LFO printed estimated figure was “final.”


Subterfuge reduced by requiring teacher knowledge exams

For months we heard from union lackeys, their politician bootlickers, fellow-travelling ideologues, and substandard teachers about how the new COMPASS evaluation system for public school teachers in Louisiana was so deficient in erring, they asserted, about true teacher quality. They were right – for the wrong reason.

The party line from this crew was that the new system, which would base half of scoring on measured student learning progress and the other half on subjective evaluations similar to the past, would make good teachers appear substandard. Of course, we never heard complaints from these fiddlers that as the state continued to rank among the lowest in student achievement, and lower than many with similar demographic characteristics, about the fact that under the old completely subjective system that only one percent of all teachers were rated poorly enough to be subject to dismissal for incompetence and that only a little over two percent get fired for that reason.

Now the results are out and, contrary to all the hyperbole, the system computed that only four percent of teachers were judged “ineffective” and thus could be set up for dismissal in the next two years, while only eight percent fell into the category suggesting remediation before things got worse. That means more than seven-eighths of all teachers were found at least adequate, despite the state’s continued below-average showing – hardly the stuff of hyperventilating claims of a “war on public education.”


End govt handout to organization overseeing hospitals

After sucking up tens of millions of dollars in public funds over nearly two decades,  Shreveport’s Biomedical Research Foundation continues to hang on to taxpayers’ udders even as its new purpose transforms the organization away from its original that has not proven cost-effective for the citizenry.

An ordinance by Caddo Commissioner Ken Epperson that would have stripped public funding of the organization failed last week, falling four votes short of passage. By Oct. 1, the  BRF becomes the administrator of both the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center – Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe, including their clinics. The state is in the transition of finding non-government operators for all but one of its state-owned charity hospitals and while the others have been recommended to be managed by hospitals, the only entity that currently does not deliver in-patient health care tapped to take over management of a state facility is the BRF, which never has run any hospitals.

Its experience lies elsewhere. From its beginning, the 501(c)(3) tax entity was envisioned as instrument to provide facilities to small concerns in the area of biomedicine, where they could develop innovative products. Since then, it has expanded its purview to trying to attract any technology-related tenant to its portfolio of facilities worth $53 million and also has gotten into the providing of venture capital.


Obama reforms would not improve LA higher education

As if Louisiana higher education isn’t already going through significant changes, along comes the idea by Pres. Barack Obama to dole out federal dollars to schools on the basis of presumed accountability measures that would impact further the state’s higher education delivery. The problem is these changes don’t reform higher education so much as they empower bigger government, and miss the point of true, beneficial change.

Obama would want to tie federal aid to metrics such as how many students from disadvantaged backgrounds are served, average tuition, scholarships and loan debt, and graduation and employment outcomes. That would mean the lower the tuition, the more scholarship and grant monies exist, the higher the proportion of minority and poor students, the higher the graduation rate, and the higher post-graduation salaries are, the more money they would get, primarily through the federal loans students could get to attend that school. Other elements he supports would be creating a national scorecard of schools to publicize records, incentives to create competency-based and accelerated learning, and to cap loan paybacks to a percentage of income.

In some ways, the basic strategy of accountability mirrors what has been going on in Louisiana over the past few years, where state assistance is tied to its public universities and colleges abilities’ to reach performance targets. As such, it suffers from the same drawback that minimizes the effectiveness of this reform: gamesmanship by schools in setting reachable targets and pressure on them to lower standards in order to reach targets such as graduation and retention rates.


Blanco reminds of her unsuitability as governor

It’s been six years, so in case anybody needed a reminder of how unsuited former Gov. Kathleen Blanco was for that job, they got it courtesy of her remarks concerning the jackpot justice lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East.

The suit, dubious both as to whether it was filed legally and whether there is any legal merit to it, wants to extract from about a hundred companies potentially billions of dollars in purported tort damages in order to fill the coffers of the agency to pursue an ambitious agenda decided solely by itself, which far exceeds its statutory resources. All of Gov. Bobby Jindal, apparently legislative majorities, and a number of other state and local agencies have expressed opposition to the suit on the basis of its merits and in how it subverts statewide coastal restoration and protection policy.

Yet some observers have praised its action, seemingly unperturbed that an agency with little accountability is trying to stretch its power to exercise that in ways never intended by the legislative majorities and in all likelihood Blanco herself when it was drafted into law seven years ago. Its members are selected by the governor for fixed terms from nominations provided by professional and political interests that may be removed only through impeachment, serving with confirmation of the Senate.