- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Jan. 21

American Press, Lake Charles, La., on dredged canals are still coastal issue:

If canals dug by oil companies years ago have caused land loss along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, why not simply fill them in? As you would expect, it’s because those who could get the job done won’t admit the canals have been a major contributor to coastal erosion. And many landowners are enjoying benefits that some of those canals provide.

The Advocate discussed the canals in a recent detailed report that said they have been a cause for concern as far back as the 1950s. Critics said the canals disturbed the marsh and the spoil banks piled up alongside those waterways contributed to salt water intrusion that has been harmful to areas surrounding the marshes.

Filling in the canals stirred some interest in the 1980s, but the newspaper said the idea didn’t get much traction.

OK, so what about the landowners who like those canals?

The waterways serve as access routes to hunting and fishing areas and as a way to get from one area of a marsh to another. Landowners build camps and create duck ponds near the canals. They also have a financial motive for keeping canals open. Deeper oil and gas extraction makes old wells attractive and money-makers again.

Houck said oil and gas drilling companies believe filling in the canals would mean they are admitting the canals and spoil banks are a problem. And that presents legal dilemmas for companies facing lawsuits like the one filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority and others by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.

There is a reason for some optimism about the canals. Kyle Graham, deputy executive director of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said canals do get filled in during the course of other restoration projects. He added that landowners could be given incentives to get them to close in other canals.

Coastal restoration is a complex process that requires multiple solutions. We hope the filling in of canals will continue to be a subject of debate because they have played a role in our disappearing coastline.




Jan. 20

The News-Star, Monroe, La., on TOPS needs tweaking:

Louisiana Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, believes he has a way to help keep some of Louisiana’s best and brightest students in the state after graduation.

Hunter plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session that ties working in the state after graduation to the number of years the graduate has received the state’s TOPS scholarship.

Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students began as a solely merit-based scholarship program 16 years ago in 1997. Since then, it’s helped more than 210,000 students reach their academic goals with a financial payout of $1.5 billion. TOPS is funded through an annual allocation by the Legislature.

The intent of TOPS was to provide the opportunity for a college education for every student in Louisiana who met basic academic standards. The program has accomplished that.

Hunter believes that if the student chooses to leave the state for other employment after having received TOPS and without having worked the required number of years, the employer should reimburse the state for the money invested in the student’s education.

We agree with Hunter that the TOPS program needs tweaking to control its costs. However, his idea does as well. It’s unlikely the state could force an out-of-state employer to reimburse the college expenses of a new hire.

Instead, we might suggest a contract between the state and the student. Treat the scholarship as a low-interest student loan that can be forgiven if a student graduates from college and works in the state.

That would solve two issues with TOPS - students who take the scholarship but either aren’t successful or drop out of college and those who get a free ride and immediately leave for greener pastures.

As legislators look for ways to control spiraling costs, TOPS should be part of the discussion. The program can be streamlined.




Jan. 21

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., on new cash for schools:

We don’t know if state revenue will come in at a level that will allow the Legislature to be Santa Claus to public schools, but we hope so, and we think that the state education board is making a reasonable request for an increase to local systems.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will recommend a 2.75 percent increase in school aid, about $70 million. That’s not much in the billions already spent, but many systems today struggle with narrow margins between revenue and expenses.

In a time of considerable change for public education, the application of a little extra money might sound a little crass, as if buying off criticism. BESE and the Legislature are not the most popular public bodies with the local systems, where most of the real heavy lifting in education reform must be achieved.

And, to be fair, most systems do have taxing capacity to raise their own money locally and not just depend on the Minimum Foundation Program, the principal state aid program.

Yet tax increases are hard to get by voters in a tough economy with unemployment still too high since the 2008 financial crash.

There also are new costs that will accrue to systems with the adoption of higher academic standards, called the Common Core State Standards. We believe these are a good idea, but making the new standards work includes using online materials better and generally making schools more capable in technology.

Technology costs real money, and systems have been absorbing many of those costs. For those reasons, we think an MFP adjustment is justified, but as BESE and, we hope, local school boards should be aware, state revenue collections might be an obstacle to achieving that goal this year. BESE must finalize its budget request just before the Legislature meets in March.

We hope an aid increase is possible, and it is invested in technology and teacher support to make the transition to Common Core more successful.



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