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Higher education board qualifications bills need passage

As well as any bills can do, HB 588 and HB 696 will increase the chances of the myriad of higher education governing boards in Louisiana having informed and accomplished members serve as opposed to political hacks with minds set more on making sure certain interests get “theirs” than with higher education.

Both proposed by Rep. Steve Carter, HB 588 would amend the Constitution to allow for additional qualifications to serve on these boards, as well as to require appointments to attempt to reflect diversity in race and gender for the Board of Regents and for the Board of Supervisors of Community and Technical Colleges. HB 696 would spell out those qualifications. Yesterday, the former advanced, while the latter got hung up over specifics and will be fine-tuned for later debate.

Presently, of the 75 members across the boards, or 93 percent of their entire memberships, that the governor appoints, the only qualification is that certain numbers come from certain congressional districts. As written, HB 696 in all five instances would mandate that a member be an experienced high-ranking officer of a company in a prominent industry; and/or hold a master of business administration degree or have lengthy private sector managerial experience; and/or be three graduates of state public schools with associate, baccalaureate, and post-baccalaureate degrees among them; and/or one be nominated from five by two “good government” groups and a business interest group; have one who has experienced in economic or workforce development in the public sector; and have one who has budgeting and human resources experience in the public sector.


Opposition to law poisons quality education, free inquiry

Lately around northwest Louisiana, first there came the alleged introduction of religion in the classroom in Sabine Parish by promoting one set of religious beliefs over another. Then in Caddo Parish there appeared the public admission of a teacher who wrote she provides insight on creationism in contrast to evolution, where the former typically traces back to a religious belief. Together, they define the acceptable boundaries between religious belief and secular schooling, and why a threatened Louisiana law valuably assists in this task.

In the former case, a suit was filed in January accusing the school of constitutional violations by actively promoting Christianity. Among the allegations, to which the school and district have not yet replied, is that in one class extra credit was given to students for answering questions associated with Christianity, a student was belittled for lack of adherence to Christianity, and that school prayers are organized by the school.

If any of these are the case, then the school in in violation. U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the First Amendment dictate that schools must remain neutral in the question of religious belief or even concerning the concept of religion, although religious-based activities may occur on their campuses but only if organized by students themselves outside of instructional periods or of school-sponsored events.


Common Core debate highlights populist split of LA GOP

Yes, as noted by a reporter, the Common Core State Standards issue has spawned an odd coalition – and a familiar one at that, which demonstrates the continuing power of populism in Louisiana that challenges Republican policy leadership.

Some Republicans, headlined by state Reps. Brett Geymann, Cameron Henry, and John Schroder, are leading the charge for major modifications, if not outright repeal, of the state’s commitment to implement CCSS, a national set of learning targets stemming from an initiative of governors, educators, and academicians. Accepted almost four years ago without controversy by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, these legislators claim popular outcry has galvanized them to override BESE on the matter.

They claim, to varying degrees of credibility, that CCSS is a “national curriculum,” it could allow for too much federal control over a state and local matter, has not been tried, and raises data privacy concerns. A number of Democrats have joined in the criticism, but typically for different reasons, asserting the effort shills for corporate interests, sets teachers up for failure, and its emphasis on objective testing makes it “too hard.” Proponents point out that the effort represents standards, not a curriculum, that federal or corporate control of education through it appears highly illusory, much expertise has gone into its formulation, and its quest for higher standards have found many backers among teachers and administrators who put in time and effort to understand it.


Era of big Jindal-led govt transformation over

Ordinarily, this space covers a governor’s state of the state speech at the beginning of an annual legislative regular session. But Gov. Bobby Jindal has shown he’s unwilling to put much into a legislative agenda for this year’s edition, largely mooting the point of this tradition and making for a lot of legislative idle hands in the devil’s workshop that invites putting him into a delicate political position.

By temperament, unlike some past governors, Jindal is not one who lives to tell the Legislature what to do, preferring to lead parsimoniously. But he found out early in his gubernatorial career that deferring on giving these guys and gals directives and thus leaving them to their own devices can cause him political headaches. In his first session, in 2008, Jindal let a tax cut gain momentum that, seeing national fiscal hard times looming and the impending election of a president who would use it to make any recovery from it tepid or worse, he rather would have deferred until the future, resulting in him jumping on its caboose as it roared through state government and into law. Almost simultaneously, he let the insipid idea of paying part-time legislators a full-time salary mutate into putting him in the awkward position of having to drive his veto pen through it, souring relations with legislators who risked looking greedy, entitled, and out-of-touch only because they thought he would let them get away with it.

Since then, Jindal has provided more direction and came up big at the beginning of his second term, fresh off an impressive reelection, with items that have fundamentally challenged and started transforming the state’s political culture. But they came at great cost to his popularity, and, combined with the natural decline of political capital as a governor ineligible for immediate reelection experiences in the last couple of years of his last term, obviously have made him consider his reach goes so far only to as to pursue, along with a couple of pieces of low-hanging fruit, one significant item this time around.


Unless repealed, fuel subsidy time bomb soon to go off

Unless the Louisiana Legislature acts in its session beginning tomorrow, it looks like a ticking time bomb can go off to the detriment of the pocketbooks of the state’s fuel consumers and taxpayers but to the benefit of a special interest.

While a number of projects involving the production of biofuels appear on the horizon in Louisiana, one actually has gotten going. Diamond Green Diesel in Norco by the end of the year will have a capacity of producing 150 million gallons a year. Starting last June, it began operating near present capacity at 7,000 barrels a day with a manufactured market in place: California government mandates already provides a market the company believes will allow it to withstand the recent elimination of a $1.01 per gallon federal government subsidy.

Unfortunately, this incident of government regulation in one state will spawn its own mandate onto Louisiana, courtesy of the former Gov. Kathleen Blanco era – R.S. 3:4674. The law states that if biodiesel production, regardless of its intended final destination, reaches an annualized 10 million gallons, then within six months two percent of the total diesel sold by volume in the state must be biodiesel. At the rate above, the firm would sell over 140 million gallons a year, easily surpassing the mark and starting the clock. The law does allow for the Louisiana Commission of Weights and Measures to suspend the requirement if logistical problems prevent fulfilling the law’s mandate, but also makes the commissioner of agriculture and forestry issue regulations requiring the state to create incentives, paid for out of state dollars, to compensate for costs to achieve this sales standard.