- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

Sept. 29.

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on funding public defense offices:

It’s high time a stable funding source was found for Louisiana’s public defense offices.

Many of the budgets of the public defenders offices around the state have repeatedly come up short. The local office is facing a shortfall once again. It was only two years ago that the office had to ask the local bar to take on cases because of a deficit.

The state Legislature appropriates $33 million to the state Public Defender Board, which then doles out the money to the local offices. In addition to the state monies, local offices also get funds from court costs, mostly traffic tickets. But that creates a problem because those can vary widely from year to year.

Local offices’ funding is also at the discretion of the state board, which decides how to split its $33 million: $17 million is divided among the 42 local districts; $13 million goes to nine nonprofit organizations - $9 million to death penalty cases; and $3 million accounts for the state board’s budget.

The argument here isn’t whether using public funds to pay for defendants’ legal fees is fair. It’s not.

It is, however, necessary if we are to consider our innocent-until-proven-guilty system a success. Each defendant must have adequate representation when it is his or her day in court. That’s the only way the system works.

It doesn’t mean each defendant gets a high-priced legal team. Defendants aren’t entitled to a Cadillac defense, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said. They do have the right to a Ford Taurus defense, however, she said.

Finding a stable source to fund public defense is going to take some thought.

Defendants should pay for as much of their defense as they can. Making sure that happens would be a good start. Certainly those sentenced to long jail terms won’t be able to help much, but many of the thousands of people the Public Defenders Office represented last year aren’t going away for a long time.

Getting appointed indigent counsel shouldn’t be easy; it should be a process that ensures that only those who truly can’t afford a lawyer are represented.





Sept. 29.

The Advertiser, Lafayette, Louisiana on school systems’ impact on student achievement

The consensus of most current research is that classroom teachers have a significant effect on student performance and achievement. Until recently, however, there was little data available to determine the effects that superintendents have on student performance.

That changed when the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute undertook a study using a decade of information on student achievement and superintendents in Florida and North Carolina.

The conclusion of the research was that, “In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable. In general, school district superintendents have very little influence on student achievement in the districts they serve.”

The study also found, as have numerous other studies, that teachers are “the most important influences on student achievement among the hierarchy of variables examined.”

“A parent who wants the best education for her child would be well advised to care about the teacher and classroom to which her child is assigned and the school in which that classroom is embedded. The district and community in which the school and classroom exist are also worthy of some of her attention as is the curriculum her child will encounter. But, with rare exceptions, the school superintendent can be off her radar screen.”

Improved student achievement rests first and foremost with the classroom teacher. Improved achievement levels are not the result of a superintendent or a Turn Around Plan or a Common Vision or the system’s form of governance or the timing of a school board election.

Lafayette must turn its focus to hiring the most talented teachers available and to developing a retention plan to support and keep those teachers in this system. To improve student performance, qualified teachers and principals must become a priority.




Sept. 23

The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on early childhood education:

They call it Act 3 of 2012 and its purpose is to improve early childhood education for Louisiana children - especially those in the “at-risk” populations. That will be accomplished through achievement requirements for all children, infants through age 4 years, who attend publicly funded child care facilities.

But funding cuts threaten to make its implementation difficult for child care providers.

It’s not good when a solution appears to lead to another problem.

And although the program created around Act 3 was piloted in 17 sites, with about 15 additional child care centers launching pilot programs this year, it will be a matter of months before the data showing how well-prepared kids in the pilot programs were for kindergarten.

It would seem a bit of caution might be in order before planning the program’s full implementation statewide. But that’s already scheduled to be completed by 2019.

Only a little more than half of Louisiana’s children are prepared to enter kindergarten. The intent of Act 3 - more formally, the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act - is to improve that dismal statistic.

Under the new law, all child care providers receiving state or federal funds - including those that accept children whose parents receive federal child care assistance - will be required to implement the new standards.

And that will mean additional costs to the owners of these businesses.

“Money isn’t everything,” Superintendent John White recently said to a crowd of child care providers, according to an article by Gannett Capital Bureau reporter Mike Hasten.

But it certainly helps.

A possible source of additional funding could lie in Preschool Development Grants. These federal grants may be used to improve daycare facilities and under some circumstances, help with teacher salaries.

But Gov. Bobby Jindal is shying away from this funding source. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Jindal asked for assurances that such a grant has no strings attached that would require participation in Common Core or any “nationally sanctioned standards.”

The new law will make early childhood education more accessible for many families, but it doesn’t seem to help the children who are most at risk.



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