- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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June 8

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on the Legislature and education:

The regular legislative session that ended June 6 will be remembered as much for what Louisiana lawmakers didn’t do as for what they did. They couldn’t balance the budget, which isn’t surprising since they didn’t approve enough new revenue in their special session in February. Then, in a bizarre display, House leadership refused to bring up the capital outlay budget for a vote. That infuriated the Senate - and some House members. Now, lawmakers will have to deal with that in addition to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ revenue proposals in their second special session.

But there is a definite upside to the regular session.

The legislative assault on education reforms also failed. Lawmakers filed numerous bills attempting to roll back accountability measures and charter school expansion.

As the Council for a Better Louisiana said: “The sheer breadth of what was being proposed to unravel Louisiana’s education reforms was staggering.”

There was a bill to eliminate the requirement that students take end-of-year tests, such as the ACT, to measure how much they have learned. Other bills would have delayed the state’s new, more rigorous academic standards and let individual school districts set their own standards.

Legislation was filed to restrict new charter schools, forbid charters from receiving local tax dollars and dictate the teachers hired by charters. Another bill would have eliminated the requirement for superintendents of floundering school systems to have performance goals in their contracts.

“That’s a long list of policy changes that, when considered together, offer a road map to take us back to where we were 20 years ago. The fact that at this point in time some of our lawmakers continue to push for these kinds of things is disconcerting to say the least,” CABL said.

Fortunately, they didn’t succeed. That is hugely important to Louisiana children and to the state’s future.

When Louisiana launched its accountability program two decades ago, students were routinely being passed from grade to grade without understanding the material or skills they needed. Thousands of them got more behind every year. If they made it to graduation, they weren’t prepared for college or for work. There was no impetus for schools or teachers to change their approach.

Louisiana schools aren’t perfect now, but they are moving in the right direction. Raising standards and testing students to ensure they understand essential information has helped minimize social promotion. If failing schools don’t improve, they risk being taken over by the state. In New Orleans, most of the schools that were failing before Hurricane Katrina are now independently run charter schools. Those schools aren’t uniformly good, but the city’s public school students have made great academic strides in the past decade.

In 2000, only 25 percent of New Orleans students scored at proficient or above on state tests. In 2014, 62 percent did, according to statistics compiled by Educate Now! The graduation rate for city students in 2004 was 54 percent. In 2015, it was 75 percent. Only 34 percent of students at the city’s public schools enrolled in college in 2004. That number had risen to 63 percent in 2015. The average ACT score climbed from 17 in 2005 to 18.8 in 2015, even though a much higher percentage of students take the test now.

Much of the anti-charter legislation this spring was driven by a desire in other parishes to protect the status quo. That is misguided.

Charter schools bring a level of energy and innovation to education that is refreshing. And the state’s accountability standards and testing push schools to improve.

Twenty years ago tens of thousands of children were stuck in failing schools across Louisiana. Now, they have hope.

Online:

http://www.nola.com/

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June 7

The Advocate on legislators choosing their own leaders:

Are the wheels falling off of the state House’s leadership bandwagon?

In January, the GOP majority in the chamber made a dramatic change with past practice by electing one of its own speaker of the House, against the wishes of the newly elected Gov. John Bel Edwards.

After a lot of self-congratulation among House members, the past six months have been tough on Speaker Taylor Barras.

Early on, the speaker drew criticism from Edwards, because the fractious GOP caucus split over the painful votes for tax increases in the first special session. The governor wondered aloud, with whom do you negotiate in the House?

That chaos in the House was more vivid in contrast with the Senate. Long-serving legislator John Alario has a firm grasp of what his members will accept or reject, and provides a level of certainty in the legislative process as president of the Senate.

Not so across the marble hall: Even the gentlemanly Alario was moved to complain about the House failing to move legislation in a timely manner.

Barras’ chamber utterly broke down at the end of the first special session, with lawmakers voting for more than $1 billion in new taxes in an eight-minute period. Obviously, many of those measures had been discussed for weeks before those final votes, but the management of the calendar is one of the most vital tasks for the speaker.

Now the lawmakers are in a second special session, with the majority of items on the agenda fixing errors in the bills passed in those iconic eight minutes of chaos.

But that’s not the only problem of the special session: The House failed in the closing day of the regular session to pass a construction budget, contained in House Bill 2. There was a dispute about substance between the House and Senate over the construction bill, and we like the fact that the House was trying to change business-as-usual over HB2.

What nobody found kosher was the author of the bill absenting himself from the chamber, refusing to take up the measure as a way of stalling out the clock as the session closed. State Rep. Neil Abramson is the speaker’s pick as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; he and Barras were the goats as members raged that the bill would not come up, and senators across the hall marked time waiting for a bill that never came.

In a very unusual move, the House majority - including a number of frustrated Republicans - twice voted to rebuke the speaker for the delay, but it takes a two-thirds vote to override the man on the high dais with a big gavel.

Now, HB2 is added to the agenda of a second special session that may be as contentious as the first. Is the speaker able to bring order out of this chaos?

Legislators have a right to pick their own leaders, but they owe it to taxpayers to elect folks who can actually lead.

Online:

http://theadvocate.com/

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June 8

The Courier of Houma on a bill to help drivers with car insurance:

Car insurance is expensive, but it is a necessary expense.

It protects the other drivers on the road, and it protects you.

But most of all, when all of us have it, it spreads out the expense of insurance coverage among all drivers.

People who fail to purchase car insurance run the risk of causing a crash for which they lack the money to pay. And, they drive up the cost of insurance for those of us who do pay for it.

So there is a clear public interest in requiring insurance coverage for all drivers, and the penalties for failing to carry insurance are understandably stiff.

With that said, what do we do if we allow our coverage to lapse and end up with hefty fines for failure to carry insurance?

Drivers must pay them before they can renew licenses or carry out other business with the Office of Motor Vehicles.

A new plan would make it easier for people to pay those fines, clear their records and get back on the road legally.

It is a sensible change.

State Rep. Denise Marcell proposed a bill that will create payment plans to allow people who owe more than $250 in insurance fines to pay off their debts to the state.

The state’s database of lapsed insurance fines goes back to 1986 and includes 275,000 drivers who owe more than $250 million.

That is a lot of money and a lot of drivers.

From the state’s point of view, we are all better off if more people pay off their fines and resume driving legally.

So why not make it easier to do just that?

This bill, which has passed through the Legislature and is going to Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature, doesn’t forgive the fines or clear the debt; it simply makes it easier for people to get back on the right side of the law.

That is in everyone’s best interest.

The point of requiring car insurance for drivers is not to punish drivers; it is to encourage insurance coverage. It lessens the possibility that insured drivers will be victimized by the uninsured and left with uncompensated losses. And, it spreads the total cost of coverage over as many drivers as possible to reduce the cost on each.

The entire system is one that depends for its success on the buy-in of everyone, and it must punish those who do not comply. But the ultimate goal of coverage for all isn’t served by making the process more difficult for those who have fines. If anything, smoothing that process should carry a benefit for all Louisiana drivers.

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com/

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