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Bizarre complaint threatens children's opportunities

It’s tough to decide what’s more shocking about a complaint a few special interest groups have brought against Louisiana education agencies about public schools in New Orleans: the utter lack of logic and fact in the complaint, the crazy assumptions it makes, its separation from reality, or the hatred that it exudes. Regardless, it sadly puts ideology before children.

Filed with the U.S. Department of Justice by the Advancement Project, a group that believes racism is institutionalized into American government and society, and Journey for Justice Alliance, a smaller group focusing on preserving schools in majority black neighborhoods that contains three local organizations, the Coalition for Community Schools, the Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community, and Vietnamese American Young Leaders of New Orleans, and also affiliated with a number of teacher unions, it claims violations under Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act. Specifically, it asserts that the pattern of school closures and dispersions of those students occur in areas of disproportionate racial minority composition of residents, which then results, it claims, with them being sent disproportionately to worse schools than those whites more likely are to attend. It seeks relief by not having closed five schools, likely to be converted into charter schools, that almost entirely have black students and are the last ones in the Recovery School District not charter schools, and a general moratorium on renewing charter schools.

It then proceeds in large part to moot these claims by its own words. First, note that within the Orleans Parish School District and RSD overlaid in the area, essentially there are no school attendance zones. It’s open admission to any school in the parish to which a student qualifies. This obviates immediately the claims not only that neighborhood schools are valuable in their own sake – because with open admissions there aren’t really any – but that any kind of discrimination in fact is going on by closing these schools in their traditional forms, because if reopened as charter schools they remain available as a choice for parents and that it was parental choice that was creating the distributions by race at schools.


Lack of culture challenging explains Jindal poll recovery

There’s no mystery as to why Gov. Bobby Jindal’s poll numbers over his terms in office have bounced from great to floundering and now almost getting above water: you aim to change the culture and when that starts many revile you; you slack off, and the previously disaffected, their worldviews unthreatened, lose interest.

On the heels of its showing, yet again, the continuing serious troubles of Sen. Mary Landrieu in her reelection bid, Southern Media and Opinion Research also released results from a number of other queries. Sen. David Vitter continues to be the early favorite to win it all for next year’s governor’s race, even if facing the as-yet unannounced (but likely) candidate New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. But more interesting was the nugget that Jindal now has about as much  approval as disapproval to his numbers, with the former at about 48 percent, almost a couple of points below the latter, and representing an 11 point improvement over a poll done by the outfit about eight months ago.

That reading was after Jindal had abandoned a thorough and helpful tax reform for the state that, had he stuck to it in modified form, was more likely than not to have prevailed, and instead acquiesced to tax and spending increases in his budget instigated by a coalition of Democrats and populist Republicans. Yet his ratings had been falling for many months before, off of a 2012 legislative session where he spearheaded monumental changes in education delivery and afterwards where by administrative actions he closed out superfluous prison space and revolutionized (for Louisiana; par for the course most any other place) the state’s role in direct delivery of health care.


Reaction to Jindal plan exposes liberal elite's hypocrisy

You would have thought that, after months of jawboning and grandstanding and editorializing about how people below the poverty line should receive health insurance in Louisiana paid for by government, when a bill to do this sailed out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee without opposition that these voices would have sung its praises. But that would have meant these same voices were being intellectually honest about desiring government to aid these individuals instead of putting expanding government power first and foremost.

Last week, state Sen. Ben Nevers vacated his SB 107, which, as several similar bills introduced in the Legislature this session had sought to do in different ways, had preached for the expansion of Medicaid as by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – commit states to a costly new entitlement that, at best, unlikely would improve outcomes for those families with incomes in the ranges of 25-100 percent of the federal poverty line, who presently don’t have access taxpayer-funded insurance. In its place, he substituted SB 682, built on an entirely different philosophy.

That’s because it mirrors, best it can, the “America Next” (titled the “Freedom and Empowerment”) plan forwarded earlier this year by Gov. Bobby Jindal. SB 682 calls for state study to create a framework this summer that follows the Jindal national plan. It intends to provide through tax breaks and premium support no-cost insurance to those in the 25-50 percent FPL range, to those above that range cost-sharing and copays only, also including Medicare recipients with cost-sharing and premium assistance, and would enact measures to lower the cost of health care provision, leading to lower rates, such as by establishing portability among states, tort reform, and pooling. Combining this with greater discretion in using federal funds, such as by using them to pay premiums for private insurance for qualifiers as along the lines of the current Bayou Health program (but for a different population) that already saves the state money over the fee-for-service model on which previous attempts at Medicaid expansion were based, extra state expenditures would not be expected.


Tuition reforms seek to change TOPS from welfare

While on this issue reformers have lost and lost again, there’s a glimmer of hope in this legislative session for some minor modification of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students and to higher education fiscal decision-making parameters that promise to make these expenditures more efficient at less cost to taxpayers. But the redistributive, giveaway mentality still infesting too many policy-makers makes for just a glimmer.

Last week, , a pair of state Sen. Jack Donahue’s bills on these matters cleared the Senate Education Committee run by fellow reformer state Sen. Conrad Appel and comprised almost entirely of Republicans and reform-minded senators. SB 340 would freeze TOPS awards at current levels, then index them at the rate of inflation. SB 343 would forward a constitutional amendment stripping the Legislature of approving tuition rates. TOPS currently pays for tuition or more for mediocre-and-better mostly in-state high school students to attend in-state colleges and universities at a level that pays for tuition for public schools regardless of that rate, an amount over which currently the Legislature has veto power (which it legally declines to exercise if the campuses hit certain performance benchmarks).

With roughly a fifth of all students qualifying for TOPS, for which they must hit certain minimal performance benchmarks annually to maintain and but only about two-thirds do, programmatic costs have spiraled upwards into the $250 million annually range. A recent constitutional change has made a small dent in this cost by supplying interest earnings from a fund, but the remainder comes from general funds tax revenues. In part, this is why the Legislature has been reluctant to release its power, unique among the states, of approval of tuition hikes by a two-thirds vote, fearing spiraling tuition costs would inflate TOPS costs even more.


Taxpayers save with benefits reserve at appropriate level

Louisiana’s reserves to pay out medical claims of state employees, dependents, and retired employees and dependents has declined by about half in the last couple of years, that’s a good thing for these people and taxpayers.

In the past two years, a pair of reductions in premium expenses to payers – who in number are about 130,000 representing around 221,000 covered persons (a media report gives the figure as 250,000, but that seems unlikely as using 2010 data, the latest publicly available for these numbers and medical claims expenses, produced a ratio of members to covered persons of 1.7) – has contributed to a fall from around $525 million to about $245 million at the end of 2013. After a 7.11 percent decrease beginning in fiscal year 2012, the drop was to $413 million at the end of FY 2013, but after a 1.77 percent decrease starting in FY 2014, the shallow decline became much steeper. Monthly revenue collections have declined roughly $10 million a month over that period (when adjusted for 2,000 fewer members due to downsizing of government).

Some seemed concerned about this. Frank Jobert, head of the interest group Retired State Employees Association, rather than be happy about the rate decreases of the past, suddenly now frets that there will have to be a big rate increase as a result of this. There is planned in the budget for next fiscal year a 5 percent rate increase – but this is not really driven by any desire to bump up reserves but instead to offset the impact of increased premium costs to the state courtesy of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (especially those ending special state exemptions). So that should add little if anything to the reserves.