- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

April 7

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on slow graduation climb:

If Louisiana’s climb toward better education is a steep one, there are markers on the hillside that suggest we’re getting somewhere.

While low among the states, Louisiana’s graduation rate from public high schools is at its highest level in 2014, at 74.6 percent - up nearly 10 percentage points in less than a decade.

It’s a record of progress that owes a lot to the movement for accountability, higher teacher pay and professionalism, and higher academic standards.

None of which come easy, from the classroom level to the policy level.

The latter is much on the mind of Education Superintendent John White, who faces pressure from Gov. Bobby Jindal and others to back down from new, higher academic standards dubbed Common Core.

“The irony in all of this is that there are pieces of legislation that are seeking to stop this progress and are doing things that would take us back in time,” White told reporters. Common Core opponents want to scrap the standards during the 2015 legislative session, reverting to 2004 school benchmarks - just about the time that new efforts started to pay off, in the graduation rate and other measures of improvement.

Whatever the outcome of the legislative session beginning April 13, the graduation rate is a solid report statewide, but the good news is unevenly distributed.

In two key districts along Interstate 10, graduation rates actually declined in East Baton Rouge and Lafayette parish systems. Suburban districts, often with lower poverty rates than those that drag on urban districts’ performance, often did better: Ascension, Zachary and Central schools were above 80 percent, and Livingston was almost there at 79.5 percent.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, in its regional report card on public systems, noted that progress is being made but “there is still much work to do,” according to Chamber President Adam Knapp. “The sobering reality is that the jobs being created today cannot wait until workforce supply catches up.”

That economic impact is certainly felt by businesses today. The good news is that more students are leaving school with a diploma, and in a separate report, the state department noted an increase in fall college applications by graduates.

Still, the national average graduation rate of 81 percent in 2013, the last year available, suggests that Louisiana still has a ways to go.

The legacies of decades are not easily overcome. Families that started behind in life desperately need education to get a grip on their futures. The resources to put into the classroom to support teachers and their vital work are not unlimited and in some systems can be downright scarce.

We can’t turn back the clock but neither can we rest easy on what has been achieved so far.




April 2

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on FEMA:

It’s that time of year when we start watching the weather a little closer.

In these parts of the country that means turning our eyes to the Gulf, where each high pressure system miles away can soon spell big trouble for us here at home.

With the official start of hurricane season less than two months away, it is time for all of us to make sure we are prepared just in case Mother Nature turns on southwest Louisiana or any part of the state.

It hasn’t been that long since we felt the full fury of her wrath. That should be enough for us to have to worry about, but the federal government seems to want to impose its own ideas on us even when it comes to weather.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees disasters in our country and who many of us know all too well thanks to Hurricanes Ike and Rita, wants us all to consider the big picture.

That is the big picture according to them.

FEMA wants all states to engage in the belief of climate change if they want to get the full support from the federal government when it comes to disaster preparedness projects.

If states don’t drink the climate change juice then FEMA may minimize the amount of financial help the federal government would provide.

This seems unthinkable, that our government would actually try and force its belief down the public’s throat.

This is not to argue climate change and what it all means, though we must also remember that some 40 years ago the same federal government that is warning us about global warming was then talking about the next ice age coming after a few cold winters.

One thing is clear, the climate is always changing and nobody seems to have a handle on all the causes and where it is headed.

That doesn’t mean we should not be talking about such things or even finding new ways to prepare for disasters in general. We should do both.

However, under no circumstances should the federal government hurt its own people just because a state or community does not buy fully into its beliefs.

Some argue that the entire climate change talk, which used to be labeled just global warming, is strictly political. If FEMA makes these changes come true then those folks would seem right.

This makes for an interesting new way of at least appearing to buy votes. See it our way and your state gets extra cash.

That is not fair to anybody. We are a nation that was built on fresh and different ideas and debate. This seems like another way to make us all conform to one idea.

It is one thing to make sure we all do our part to be prepared for such events, and in that the federal government should be willing to help and hold us to a high standard. It is up to all of us to be as ready as we can when disaster strikes.

But in no way should the government hold our own thoughts hostage with the talk of withholding funds that everybody in the land is equally entitled to.

That would seem to be ideal blackmail.

Our actions and how we prepare should always speak louder than our thoughts or words.

And the federal government should be there to help us when we need it whether we agree with all their beliefs or not.

At least that seems like the American way.




April 7

The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on rallying for state parks:

In terms of cuts that have to be made to balance the state’s budget, closing some swimming pools or cutting back on services at state parks might not seem like something that could have an impact.

Some area communities know that it does. And they’re rallying to save what’s important to them.

At Lake D’Arbonne State Park, area governments and businesses are raising money to open the park’s swimming pool by Memorial Day.

And the Bastrop Chamber of Commerce has offered to provide a part-time employee to help with upkeep and cabin cleaning at Chemin-A-Haut State Park in Morehouse Parish.

“With our budget situation forcing cutbacks at every level, it’s heartening to see communities stepping up to preserve the recreational opportunities in their areas,” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said. “The citizens of Farmerville and Bernice (in Union Parish) should be proud of the commitment they’re demonstrating to Lake D’Arbonne State Park.”

State budget cuts have forced Dardenne to close all state park pools this summer and lay off all of the part-time workers who maintain the parks.

Quentin Durr of Community Trust Bank is leading the effort to open the Lake D’Arbonne pool, which is the only public swimming pool in Union Parish.

Durr said the community’s goal is to raise $25,000 to open the pool from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but if less money is raised the pool could be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only.

More than 60,000 tourists visit Lake D’Arbonne State Park annually, and many of them rent park cabins or even private lake houses based on access to the pool. Dardenne said some parks with pools have already seen summer reservation cancellations because of pool closures.

“Once you close a facility, it’s hard to get it back open,” said Durr, who already has commitments from the towns of Farmerville and Bernice and the Union Tourist Commission.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes, but this was unexpected, so time isn’t on our side,” he said.

Farmerville Mayor Stein Baughman said the park’s swimming pool “is vital to our community both as an economic driver and quality of life issue.”

“The pool is going to be open,” Baughman said. “We can’t afford for it not to be open. Whatever we invest locally as governments or businesses will be returned twofold or threefold.”

The importance of the state parks to regional parish and town economies can’t be underestimated. We’re glad to see local initiatives and leaders take charge of what’s vital to them.





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