- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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July 23

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on state education Superintendent John White:

There is no rational reason for Louisiana schools Superintendent John White’s job to be threatened.

He’s smart, principled and innovative. He is committed to high standards. He stands up for what is best for children. And Louisiana students are improving academically under his leadership.

Our state has a lot of problems, but the direction of public schools is not one of them.

So, it is distressing that Gov. John Bel Edwards would even contemplate a lawsuit aimed at unseating Mr. White.

It is well known that Gov. Edwards, who has been aligned with teacher unions, wants to fire Mr. White. He said so during his campaign in 2015. Gov. Edwards argues that local school boards should have more control over whether charter schools open in their districts. He also has said test scores shouldn’t play as big a role in teacher and school evaluations.

The thing is, the governor can’t fire the state superintendent of education. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which chooses the superintendent, is constitutionally independent. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal was reminded of that when he tried to interfere with BESE’s education policy decisions in 2014.

A majority of the board supports Mr. White, but his backers don’t have enough votes to give him a new contract. So, he has been working month-to-month since 2016.

Some of his opponents saw that as a way to force him out. A dozen residents filed a lawsuit May 30 asking a judge to require Mr. White to be reconfirmed by the state Senate. But Baton Rouge Judge William Morvant ruled July 10 that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing. Only a few elected officials, including the governor, have the legal authority to make that request.

Asked Wednesday if Mr. White would continue his job, Gov. Edwards said: “That remains open.” The governor said he “wasn’t prepared to make an announcement” about whether he would pursue a lawsuit to try to force that review.

But he said he thinks Mr. White needs to be reconfirmed by the Senate to remain in his job. Since the judge didn’t rule on that question, “that may be something that needs to be litigated,” the governor said.

Is that really a reason to go to court and spend money on lawyers — especially when the state is in a perpetual financial bind?

It would be reminiscent of the lawsuits Gov. Bobby Jindal filed trying to force BESE to bend to his will. He failed to get a court to go along with him as he fought Louisiana’s implementation of Common Core academic standards. There is some animus toward Mr. White in the Legislature because he fought for those standards.

Louisiana has a long way to go to get off the bottom of national rankings, and Mr. White freely acknowledges that. But the state is on an upward trajectory.

The graduation rate and ACT averages have gone up statewide. More students are scoring at the mastery level on state achievement tests. The state also has raised standards for preschools and daycares and set up a rating system to make it easier for parents to find the best place for their children.

If you look at New Orleans, which is the truest example of the reforms Mr. White supports, the improvement is striking.

The graduation rate in New Orleans climbed from 54 percent in 2004 to 75 percent in 2015, according to Educate Now. Over that decade, average ACT scores increased from 17.0 to 18.8 on the 36-point test. The number of New Orleans public school students enrolled in college grew from only 37 percent in 2004 to 63 percent in 2015.

Despite disagreements with two governors, Mr. White has stayed out of the political fray. “We have come together in a shared mission,” he said in a speech at the fifth-annual Teacher-Leader Summit June 8. “It’s not about politics. It’s not about the things that divide us. It’s about what matters for these kids.”

What matters for kids is to have someone like Mr. White working to make sure their schools are the best they can be.

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

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July 22

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on Louisiana’s French heritage and its connection to American foreign policy:

If President Donald Trump can give an impression of grumpiness from his frequent comments on Twitter, he’s also capable of a boyish charm even at 71. It was on display on July 14 in Paris, at the annual Bastille Day parade.

The American press, obsessed with the president, recounted how enthusiastically he enjoyed the parade. The European press, obsessed with relations with America, noticed how the president’s enthusiasm suggested that he is getting along famously with the new French president, Emmanuel Macron.

Trump’s relations with Angela Merkel of Germany, and Theresa May of Great Britain? Maybe not so much fun.

But it was only fitting that Trump visited Paris on the centennial of America’s entry into World War I. The famous comment of an American officer, “Lafayette, we are here!” came as U.S. troops rescued the Allied cause in 1917-18. Next year will see the anniversaries of the bloody fighting in the Argonne Forest and other places where America swayed the balance in what was then called the Great War.

Few places in America have more cause to reflect on the U.S.-France kinship than Louisiana, named for French monarchs. One of our great cities is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a key supporter of the American Revolution. Baton Rouge got its name during Iberville’s explorations. In 2018, New Orleans will celebrate its founding 300 years ago.

The leadership of Louisiana is aware of the importance of these ties.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser travels this week to Quebec City, along with members of the members from the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana and tourism officials. Nungesser will sign an agreement fostering French in schools and other cultural offerings.

The history of the old country is never far from us in Louisiana, but the anniversaries of World War I are of importance for Americans whether descended from the French or not.

A Louisiana historian, Steven Rabalais, has recently written a biography of one of the key participants in the American Expeditionary Force, Gen. Fox Connor. Connor is best known now for mentoring young American officers named Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton, but his military reputation came from his accomplishments in the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.

Rabalais’s book vividly recounts the disputes over control of American troops - the French and British were desperate for immediate help, but Connor’s boss Gen. John J. Pershing insisted that they be trained to fight under American command.

Disputes with allies, debates over control - sounds very close to the situation facing today’s president, as real as the headlines of a century ago this year.

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

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July 25

Alexandria Daily Town Talk on a state workforce development program being named best in the county for an eighth consecutive year:

When you talk about “best of” programs around the country, regardless of the category, sadly it’s pretty rare to see Louisiana at the top of a good list.

But, for the eighth consecutive year, the state’s FastStart workforce development program has been named the best in the country. As competitive as economic development programs are, and when you consider the consistent turnover in state governments as administrations come and go, maintaining the top ranking in the nation for eight straight years is quite an achievement.

Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson was in Alexandria Monday. In a meeting with The Town Talk Editorial Board he noted the program as one of the assets Louisiana has when it comes to attracting new business to the bayou state.

Locally, Pierson sited Plastipak, a manufacturing company that located in Central Louisiana to support the Proctor & Gamble plant in Pineville, as one example of a local company that benefits greatly from the FastStart program.

FastStart is a program offered by Louisiana Economic Development to create customized recruitment, screening and training solutions for eligible businesses.

Such a program is crucial in educating workers to fill jobs in new or developing fields. And it could be the key to achieving real economic growth in Central Louisiana.

While Lake Charles is seeing a boom from natural gas, other markets like Lafayette are seeing a downtown due to lower oil prices. While several markets around the state have seen big swings, Central Louisiana has stayed relatively stable over the years. No big booms, as many predicted would happen with assets like I-49, the port and England Airpark in place. But no big bust either, as many expected when England Air Force Base shut down.

“Diversity is the key,” Pierson noted when talking about Central Louisiana. Major health care facilities, agriculture, manufacturing operations like P&G; and Union Tank Car, corporations like Cleco and military operations at Fort Polk and Camp Beauregard have been mainstays, even as other businesses, like Dresser Industries and International Paper have closed.

Looking at the state as a whole, different regions are becoming hubs for varying industry. South Louisiana has the oil and gas corridor. North Louisiana is seeing an uptick in computer and digital operations. So what would work well in Central Louisiana?

“Aviation and aerospace,” Pierson said. Noting the assets at England Airpark, Pierson said that would be a natural fit for companies that do airplane maintenance and development.

In addition, technology industries make sense in every market. From people writing code to power digital devices to systems security operations, there is tremendous growth potential in the computer and technology segment.

Getting those kinds of companies to locate in Central Louisiana will require that we can provide a ready workforce to meet their production needs. And in many cases it will mean developing new skills that have not been in the market or in very short supply.

And that is where programs like FastStart come into play. That, coupled with support from the rest of the educational community — from high schools all the way to universities and community colleges — will be the key to teaching local workers the skills they need to be successful.

We are pleased to see that so many pieces are in place. Of course, as mentioned earlier about I-49, the port and England Airpark, Central Louisiana has had a lot of the pieces in place for some time.

This isn’t the first time we have heard we’re on the cusp of growth. There have been a lot of close calls — Sundrop Fuels, Revolution Aluminum, Cooper Tire. All looked good and then didn’t pan out for reasons that were more about outside factors than what Central Louisiana has to offer.

But just because those projects didn’t work out doesn’t mean the next one won’t. We have the pieces in place. The economic recruiters, from LED to CLEDA to the local chamber of commerce and city and parish governments are all on board, as are the local colleges and universities.

We’re optimistic the next “big announcement” will really be what we have been waiting and working toward for so long.

Online: https://www.thetowntalk.com/


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