- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Aug. 15

The Courier of Houma on the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students:

A task force is scheduled to examine the long-term stability of the state’s generous tuition program.

The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students - or TOPS - has been in place for nearly two decades. But rising costs and persistent state budget difficulties have created some uncertainty in its future.

While it is incredibly popular among the students who use it and their parents, it has become a growing burden on the state’s finances. And last year, when the budget faced yet another shortfall, lawmakers and the governor failed to fully pay for the program.

This year, Gov. John Bel Edwards originally proposed a budget that cut the money going into TOPS. Lawmakers, though, passed a budget that paid for it, and the governor agreed to the change.

The question is how to make it financially viable looking into the future.

There are a few ways to approach this.

First, the state can do nothing and watch the cost of TOPS continue to spiral upward and create an increasingly difficult burden on the budget.

Second, lawmakers can make TOPS more difficult to get. By increasing the criteria that must be met to qualify for TOPS, the state would make fewer students eligible and cut the cost associated with it.

Third, officials might consider making the program more of a needs-based scholarship, one that gives preference to students from less-affluent families. This, too, would reduce the number of students who qualify, making it less expensive and targeting students who have a harder time paying for college.

More likely than any one of those is a combination of several or all of these approaches.

The good news here is that the task force is starting work, and some of its members have already said that long-term stability will be the group’s top priority.

That is as it should be.

The program is popular. It helps students pay for college, and it makes it more attractive for Louisiana students to remain in their home state to attend our colleges rather than going elsewhere for their educations.

It makes sense to get a handle now on the cost of TOPS and unsure that it’s there for future generations of students. It is, after all, one of the few ways Louisiana in recent years has managed to make life a little easier for students.

But to avoid the uncertainty that has plagued the program, the task for must come up with ways to make it affordable. That must be the top priority, and so far, it appears to be.

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

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Aug. 16

The Advocate on the contract of state Education Superintendent John White:

The state’s top school board is planning a closed-door discussion on the contract of state Education Superintendent John White.

At the end of that meeting, the members ought to do what they should have done all along, which is offer a standard contract to White for the remainder of the term of the current board.

This has been put off for political reasons. White has the general support of a majority - in fact, all but one - of the elected members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. But democracy only goes so far: Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has policy disagreements with White, appoints three members.

With a 7-4 pro-White split on the board, the members have not acted as they should and offer White a second permanent contract; for the past 18 months, he has worked month-to-month.

Maybe there is no harm in that, as his job is obviously secure.

No one doubts his authority, although some legislators have grumbled. The governor has questioned White’s qualifications, but over the past 18 months his concerns should have gone away: The state department and Louisiana public schools are doing better in many metrics of performance.

John White is a success. A regular contract probably doesn’t matter, but if BESE members want to be consistent in their treatment of their appointee, dragging of the heels of one elected member and three appointed members - against seven who were elected, after all - politicizes what is really an administrative decision.

Yet the politics of teacher unions, who supported Edwards and tend to be very critical of White, stands in the way of consensus. The latest nonsense is that the state Senate, which originally confirmed White in his post, should vote again on the month-to-month contract. We think this is ridiculous. Senate confirmation is required when someone is appointed, not when the confirmed official continues in his or her post.

Once again, an orderly process would be subjected to new political strains. Edwards, in particular, ought to be against this, given all the other problems the state has.

One does not have to agree with White in everything to understand that the purpose of a BESE contract is not to approve of all his policies, but simply to have a regular order: The people of Louisiana moved from a superintendent elected statewide to this appointed model, and it has largely worked.

His contract is not going to make a big difference, but it would be a statement from BESE that however great the policy differences, the system set up in the Louisiana Constitution will work.

Members ought to agree on a White contract and put to rest the pointless agitation for a second, unnecessary confirmation vote in the Senate.

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

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Aug. 15

The Lake Charles American Press on Louisiana’s ACT scores:

ACT scores in Louisiana - and in Calcasieu Parish - are inching up, but although there is growth, the progress is slow.

State Superintendent John White, speaking to journalists last Wednesday via conference call, said the state average on the college entrance exam increased from 19.1 in 2013 - when BESE starting offering all high school students free access to the ACT - to 19.6 in 2017.

The ACT test measures what students learn in high school to determine their readiness for college. The scores are also used to grade how Louisiana’s public high schools are performing, as well as who will receive TOPS scholarships to state colleges and universities.

White said more than 25,700 students in the class of 2017 earned a score of 18 or higher. In the class of 2012, 18,307 graduates scored at that level, an increase of 7,397 students over the last five years.

White said 15,406 students scored a 21 or above - an increase of 3,896 students since 2012.

He also said nearly 8,700 more graduates in the class of 2017 earned TOPS-qualifying ACT scores than did in 2012.

“That means more students pursuing workforce training opportunities, more students going to community college and more students going to universities in ways that are affordable that allow them to not have to take on debt as they make their way through their education,” he said.

Calcasieu Parish also earned bragging rights.

School Board spokeswoman Holly Holland said the average score for parish students increased from 19.6 in 2013 to 20 in 2017. The parish earned a consistent 19.7 average in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The rising ACT scores both in Calcasieu and statewide reflect genuine progress, but there is still more to do. The national ACT average won’t be released until September, but last year Louisiana ranked 13th among the 18 states in which all students take the exam.

Louisiana has a long way to go to climb higher in national rankings, but the state is on an upward trajectory. In fact, Louisiana’s 2016 high school graduation rate climbed to 77 percent; more than 6,500 high school students earned college credit on Advanced Placement exams; and Louisiana is leading the nation in the College Level Examination Program. For that, we should be proud.

Online: www.americanpress.com


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