- Associated Press - Thursday, August 10, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


Aug. 3

The Courier of Houma on West Nile virus:

It’s that time of year again in south Louisiana.

In addition to our famously stifling summer heat, there are buzzing, biting insects that bring with them stings and danger.

Our thick concentration of mosquitoes is aggravating to those of us who spend time outside.

But they are even more than that. They often carry with them the West Nile virus.

Although no cases have turned up in Terrebonne or Lafourche this year, there have been a handful of cases across the state.

“This is fairly typical,” Louisiana Department of Health Communications Director Bob Johannessen said. “We usually begin seeing West Nile cases beginning in June, July and August. … Last year, we put out our first report in the beginning of August.”

West Nile isn’t always deadly. In fact, many who contract the disease never even know they had it. They might have a fever or another relatively slight symptom, but they don’t suffer the debilitating sickness that can come with the disease.

But others are not so lucky. West Nile can cause brain swelling and even death.

So don’t take your chances with this year’s mosquitoes. Follow some common sense precautions that should help lessen your chances of coming into contact with the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the following will help keep you and your neighbors safer:

- Use insect repellents while outdoors. Follow the instructions on the labels.

- Wear long sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors.

- Limit your outdoors activities when mosquitoes are at the most active, near dusk and dawn.

- Repair window screens to keep mosquitoes outside.

- Reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by emptying standing water and throwing out old tires, appliances and other items that can catch water and provide mosquitoes with a place to breed.

- Report dead birds to local authorities. Mosquitoes can spread the virus from birds that have it. And health officials can track where they are found.

With our sweltering summers, it’s almost unfair that we also have to worry about disease-laden mosquitoes. But we do.

We have to take them into account, even if we think the chances of contracting West Nile virus are minuscule. Let’s keep it that way by following the sound medical advice and staying out of harm’s way.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/


Aug. 2

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on Louisiana’s economy compared to the United States:

In many parts of Louisiana, they’re not popping the Champagne corks for a record-setting performance by the United States economy: the third-longest string of recession-free months in recorded history.

The federal government has documented that metric, the Associated Press reported, back to the administration of Franklin Pierce in the 1850s. But the two very long expansions have been in modern times, in the Lyndon Johnson years of the 1960s and the Bill Clinton years lately, ending with a crash of tech stocks in 2001.

This time, the AP heard very mixed reviews about the rebound - if that word is appropriate for relatively slow growth - that has occurred since the 2009 official end of the Great Recession of our time.

The government estimated Friday that the economy grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate from April through June. But job gains have been slow compared to past recoveries, although the stock markets continue to set records.

In Louisiana, as so often, our economy is somewhat counter-cyclical to the rest of the country. As oil prices plummeted over the last several years, we took big job hits in the energy-production companies, even as low prices of natural gas kept industrial construction going.

That very mixed bag is why celebration is hard to come by for the U.S. expansion.

Louisiana appears to have dug its way out of recession, reaching a three-year low in its unemployment rate as the state finally shows job gains after being hammered by the downslide in the oil and gas industry.

“My story has been Louisiana in recession, but I’m changing my story. I’m saying Louisiana’s in recovery or starting,” Greg Albrecht, the Louisiana Legislature’s chief economist, told the AP. But the upswing is also slow, as in the national economy.

The state is third-highest in unemployment, a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.5 percent for June, compared to a national rate of 4.4 percent. Albrecht warns the job growth is barely reaching positive territory.

“We need positive growth, not just less negative, and we seem to be getting that as we’ve gotten into 2017,” he said. “Is it sustained, strong? Not yet.”

Any growth is good, particularly in areas like the Lafayette area, where job losses in oilfield services and exploration were concentrated. “We’re still not where we need to be, but we are headed in the right direction,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards of the state.

True, but our economy remains heavily dependent on the energy industry. With giant swings, which we’ve experienced before, Louisiana is only somewhat in sync with national growth trends.

We ought to change that.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/


Aug. 2

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on college test results among Louisiana students:

To judge progress in Louisiana schools, you need to take a long view. The latest results on Advanced Placement tests are a perfect example.

Only 6,519 of 19,193 students who took AP tests in 2017 scored high enough to earn college credit. That is roughly one-third, which doesn’t sound all that great.

But it is important to look at the dramatic progress Louisiana students have made over the past five years.

In 2012, only about 6,600 students statewide even took the Advanced Placement exams, according to the Department of Education. This year, almost that many students scored high enough on the tests to get college credits.

The number of students taking Advance Placement tests has grown 189 percent in five years. And the number of students who earned a passing score has grown 137 percent.

State education Superintendent John White has made increasing Advanced Placement courses a priority. That is a smart strategy.

Advanced Placement “is the most challenging level of student achievement” at high schools, he said at a press conference in Baton Rouge Thursday. Louisiana’s brightest students need to be challenged academically.

Nationally, our state ranks second-worst — ahead of only Mississippi — in the percentage of students earning advance placement credit. Those rankings are based on all public school graduates, not just students who took the exam.

Only about 8 percent of Louisiana graduates earned AP credits in 2016, according to the College Board. But that more than tripled the results from 2006, when only 2.5 percent of state students got AP credits. In fact, Louisiana ranks much higher nationally when judged by its rate of improvement.

There is a reason the state has been ranked low. Twenty years ago, only 109 schools offered AP classes, according to the College Board. By 2007, the number was 158. But by 2016, it had hit 286.

Mr. White wants to keep growing that universe. “We must maintain this momentum,” he said in a written statement when the results were released last week. “Our students are as smart and capable as any in America. They deserve these opportunities.”

He’s right. AP classes challenge students and prepare them for college, even if they don’t get college credit for their work. Of course, the goal is for them to understand the material well enough to qualify for those credits.

That is how they save money and get ahead in college.

The state Department of Education estimates the savings for the students who earned at least 3 college credits this year at nearly $7 million. The number is based on tuition rates in the 2016 College Board report on trends in university costs.

That is a significant financial boost for those families.

Louisiana students as a whole are gradually improving on college entrance tests as well. Average composite ACT scores have edged up, from 19.2 on the 36-point test for the Class of 2014 to 19.5 in 2016.

The ACT increase is more impressive if you consider that thousands more students are taking the test now than in the past — including students who might not be planning to go to college. In 2013, the state started using the ACT as part of its formula to grade high schools.

The statistical increases equate to thousands of students.

For instance, the three-year increase in ACT scores between 2014 and 2016 meant that nearly 8,000 more students could qualify for TOPS tech scholarship awards, Mr. White said when those scores were released. The tech scholarships pay tuition for skill or occupational training in the two-year Louisiana Community and Technical College System or at state-sanctioned schools that offer cosmetology or other training.

The improvement in Advanced Placement tests means that thousands of the state’s best students are getting a jump on college.

That isn’t only good for individual families, but for Louisiana as a whole.

Online: https://www.nola.com/

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