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CCSS opponents can't beat something with nothing

While maybe in poker you can beat something with nothing, that’s not true in politics, as detractors of usage of the Common Core State Standards in Louisiana found out yesterday in the House Education Committee.

A pair of bills met with defeat at the hands of the committee that would have significantly altered or derailed for some time, if not entirely defeated, the program. Developed under the auspices of the nation’s governors with input from education administrators, teachers, and academicians, CCSS sets up conceptual benchmarks that students are to attain, concentrating on critical thinking ability, while leaving content up to states. Having the same set of concepts as learning goals enables across states comparative testing under four different systems, which are related to standards used to test internationally. Louisiana previously committed to participation in the one known as Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers.

One bill, HB 558 by state Rep. Cameron Henry, would have removed the state’s participation from PARCC and, unless replaced by other actions with participation in one of the other three systems, would have mooted much of the utility of CCSS, for while the advantage of a program to stimulate critical thinking would have remained, no longer would results be comparable and additional data given to assessing how well educators were doing, making it difficult to ensure performance of a quality job. The other bill, HB 381 by state Rep. Brett Geymann, would have put a moratorium on CCSS implementation (which would have gone into effect after this year’s trial run and testing) and launch a process that could come up with something completely different, with no guarantee that this could be done, or could come up with anything better, or have any accountability to whatever result it produced.


Nomination bill opposition relies on myth, straw man

Usually shooting well when it comes to evaluating operations of government, New Orleans’ Bureau of Government Research bogeyed badly in confused opposition to reforms to bring more accountability to the state’s flood protection authorities.

SB 79 by state Sen. Robert Adley would change the process by which the authorities, which possess wide-ranging regulatory and spending power, have members nominated to them. Many of these positions are designated for individuals with professional qualifications, others for residents of the parishes involved, and still others have both qualities, while a couple need none of these. Currently, a nominating committee of representatives from public policy interest groups, academicians, and professionals picked by organizations choose one or two members for potential appointment by the governor, with Senate confirmation. If they fail to do so by a certain time limit, the governor may select anyone who meets the qualifications.

The bill would change this procedure so that each position had to have three nominees from which the governor selects or refuses. Refusal means more nominees would be put forward by a certain time period until either the governor appoints one or the deadline is missed and he may appoint any qualified person. The previous occupant continues in office until a replacement surfaces, as is currently done.


Make TOPS really merit-based or it cannot work well

One comment to a legislative committee put into a nutshell the reason why Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students has become a costly public policy issue and why it must be reformed if any coherence is to come to larger policy regarding higher education funding.

Last week, the House Education Committee vetted several bills relating to the program, which pays for tuition at state colleges or universities or its equivalent at private schools and in some instances a little more. While they varied in approach, all had the effect of reducing its cost to the state, which is forecast to hit the $370 million annual level within a few years.

In the process of taking testimony, the committee heard from James Caillier, representing the Patrick Taylor Foundation. Taylor initiated the program privately over two decades ago, promising a group of students disproportionately from low income families that if they did sufficiently well in their studies, he would foot their college tuition costs. Caillier, responding to the plethora of bills that raised qualification standards and/or would have winners take on the initial costs of their education, decried the bills with “What are they trying to do? Make it a program for the rich?”


Turnout requirement boosts democracy, saves money

If it’s good enough for Switzerland, Italy, and other countries and states, it ought to be good enough for Louisianans and will save them a little money in the process.

This doesn’t refer to improved horology, better chocolatiers, or increased viniculture, but instead to imposing a double requirement on passage of any tax measure requiring voter approval. SB 200 by state Sen. Bret Allain would require that not only a majority of those voting in the election approve of the measure for it to pass into law, but also that a minimum of 20 percent of registered voters in the jurisdiction turn out for the election.

In local elections for these matters in the state, it is not surprising to have turnout figures of five percent or even less, even in large jurisdictions. This has spurred calls that important fiscal decisions end up getting decided with the explicit support of perhaps two percent of all voters mocks the concept of majority rule. Worse, low turnouts for elections with only tax measures on the ballot, as permitted in the regular election cycle by providing additional dates beyond those when elections for office are scheduled, can be used by governments to increase chances for passing of these tax measures that they depend upon for revenues. The thinking here is that low interest allows those who do or would disproportionately benefit from these taxes – bureaucrats, politicians, recipients of government contracts, etc. – to have every incentive to mobilize to vote for the tax, while to the general public paying of these taxes (hidden in sales transactions, rental payments, mortgage bills, etc.) these seem out of sight and mind and so it is much harder to mobilize those against these to come to the polls and cast negative votes.


Easy, obvious sunshine bill faces old school opposition

When it comes to trying to defeat a good idea, never let the inadequacy of a bad suggestion get in the way of accomplishing that, a recent exchange in a Louisiana House of Representatives committee reaffirmed.

In front of the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee appeared state Rep. Barry Ivey stumping for his HB 923, which would require under normal conditions posting online, if a municipality had a website, of agendas for public meetings at least 24 hours in advance (they are required to be posted publicly already) and the minutes of these meetings (at least information about motions and votes) online within a week of the meeting. Since these already must be done in paper format, and a number of jurisdictions already make the almost costless and effortless move to put them online, the bill makes eminent sense.

Its value should be self-evident. For example, before the brouhaha became so prominent that the large media outlets across the river finally noticed it and began publicizing it, how many people in Port Allen knew about their ex-mayor’s trip to the 2013 Inauguration paid for by the city, or that she had been in line to make $85,000 a year (for a city of population 5,101) until the city council cut it to about $65,000 – illegally, as it turned out? Unless you made a trek to city hall and asked to look at minutes, or the library to look at copies of the newspaper that serves as the city’s journal of record – and if you wanted a permanent copy you’d have to pay for the issue of the newspaper, or for copies from it at the library, or copies of official records (after perhaps having to make a formal request) at city hall (at the rate at least of 25 cents per page) – you would have no verified record of any of this, if even any knowledge of these actions, that might get up your curiosity or activate you to seek input into the policy-making process.