- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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July 19

The Times-Picayune on a recent study ranking University of New Orleans, third out of 342 schools, as a leader in equal access to higher education:

In a city with a high poverty rate located in a state with a high poverty rate, it is important for a university to do all it can to help people move up the economic ladder. The University of New Orleans understands that.

UNO ranked third out of 342 selective, four-year public research universities as a leader in equal access to higher education, according to a recent Brookings Institution study titled “Ladder, labs or laggards? Which public universities contribute the most.” At UNO, 16.6 percent of students are from the bottom 20 percent of households based on income.

UNO is one of the “leader” universities because it provides high student mobility and high-level research, the study found. Only the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University outranked UNO.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette ranked high as a “leader” university as well, coming in ninth. ULL has 12.8 percent of students who are from the bottom 20 percent of households, according to the study. It is strong in research as well.

Just 20 percent of all schools in the study managed to excel at both mobility and research. The universities on Brookings’ “leader” list provide a good return for taxpayer investment, the study’s authors argue.

“In particular, universities act as ladders for social mobility, which makes for a more dynamic and fairer society,” they said. “They are also laboratories for research, expanding our knowledge in directions that can improve the welfare of the broader population.”

The state has a couple of schools in the top 25 on the study’s list of “ladder” schools: Northwestern State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Those schools provide mobility for students but are lacking in research. They actually have a higher percentage of low-income students than UNO or ULL.

Louisiana legislators should pay attention.

Colleges and universities fared pretty well in the new state budget, which went into effect July 1. The TOPS scholarship program was funded at 100 percent, after lawmakers only covered partial tuition last year, and higher education was fully funded for the first time in a decade.

But universities are still dealing with the effects of steep budget cuts during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s two terms. State funding to Louisiana colleges and universities was cut by more than 40 percent between 2008 and 2015.

UNO, which is the only public research university in New Orleans, lost dozens of full-time faculty members and several degree programs were eliminated.

But, as the Brookings study shows, it continues to produce research and provide opportunities for students from all backgrounds.

For example, one UNO-led research project will use $349,000 from BP oil spill fines to map geologic faults in the Mississippi River delta. Mark Kulp, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at UNO, is leading the team, which also includes a professor from ULL.

Another research group led by Marla Nelson, associate professor of planning and urban studies at UNO, is using $295,000 in BP fines to design a relocation policy for Terrebonne Parish residents. The plan includes relocating some residents and elevating homes that will be at risk from storm surge flooding.

Those projects could have broad impact on our region.

More than 40,000 UNO graduates live in the New Orleans metro area, Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, said in a letter to the editor after TOPS cuts were announced in 2016. UNO “educates the workforce of New Orleans,” including jobs in hospitality and tourism, technology, film and music, urban planning, naval architecture and marine engineering, he said.

In response to the Brookings study, UNO President John Nicklow said it was “thrilling to receive this kind of national validation.”

It is nice to get national recognition, especially after going through almost a decade of budget cuts. But it would be even better for the state to reinvest in higher education.

Legislators made a start this year. They need to make higher education a priority in the next budget, too — and the ones after that. The benefits to students and to the state as a whole are clear.

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

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July 18

The Advocate of Baton Rouge on U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy:

Seniority isn’t what it used to be in many workplaces - even in one of the most august, the United States Senate.

That’s why we’re not surprised that John N. Kennedy, just about the least senior among the senators, is already causing trouble in the chamber he entered in January.

Kennedy was a longtime head of the Louisiana Treasury, an important office but one with a small staff and with relatively limited functions in state government. For Kennedy, who had started out in the reformist administration of Gov. Buddy Roemer, the office nevertheless gave him a platform to criticize state budgeting practices. His office was in charge of guarding the money, not budgeting, but that hardly fazed him.

Now, he is almost dead last in seniority among 100 senators. Luther Strange, an Alabama Republican, is No. 100, having been appointed to fill the seat of Jeff Sessions, named attorney general in the new administration of President Donald Trump. Kennedy is just ahead of Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat. Although they entered the Senate at the same time, and neither has any previous federal service or was a governor, he ranks slightly above Masto because he’s from the more populous state. That arcane pecking order follows the Senate’s honored traditions.

But as more senior senators have learned quickly, the new fellow from Louisiana is no respecter of traditions, having quickly joined with more senior colleagues to cut back the Senate’s prized August vacation.

“I know I’m new here and there are a lot of traditions, and people need to do things back home, but we can’t pass things back home,” Kennedy, a Republican from Madisonville, said during a news conference Tuesday. “I don’t know any working class Americans who get to take a whole month off.”

Remarkably, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has agreed, and the Senate will work until Aug. 11.

Officially, the leader of the GOP majority blamed Democrats for slow-walking approval of Trump’s nominees for courts and federal offices. This takes some nerve, given McConnell’s blocking for an entire year President Barack Obama’s last nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland. The fact is that neither party has an unsullied reputation in the confirmation process.

Less officially, the reality is that the tangle over the GOP priority of a new health bill has created a backlog in a chamber - as well as the U.S. House across the hall - that is barely functioning anymore as a legislative body.

When it comes to traditions, we’re not surprised that Kennedy is willing to disrupt the stately processes in his new office. But we wish that the Senate as a whole would start paying attention to some traditions that the entire body has abandoned, starting with quick and judicious consideration of Trump’s nominees. Garland deserved that consideration last year, from Republicans.

Another tradition that’s gone out the window is the timely approval of federal budgets.

Kennedy is well aware of the Louisiana families still struggling with catastrophic flooding from last year, but the Congress and the administration have been mired in other matters, and the budget for federal agencies, including those administering flood relief, is approved only in short-term continuing resolutions and deals among the senators.

Some practices become traditions because they work. The Senate’s long history of compromise, the means by which it approved vital services, is an institutional tradition worth reviving.

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

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July 20

The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette on One Acadiana CEO Jason El Koubi moving on to the No. 2 position at Virginia Economic Development Partnership:

Jason El Koubi’s greatest contributions to Acadiana were to build a structured organization for regional progress and to leave a road map for us to get there. The rest is up to us.

The departing president and CEO of One Acadiana, a nine-parish “super chamber” of regional leadership, serves his last day in that role this week. On July 31, he assumes the No. 2 position at Virginia Economic Development Partnership, that state’s rough equivalent to Louisiana Economic Development.

El Koubi told The Daily Advertiser’s editorial board this good news: Acadiana holds in its hands a reputation for cultural vibrancy and authenticity and “pride of place” that other regions “cannot buy.” We are “cooler,” ”funkier.” But we already knew that.

Nonetheless, challenges persist. Here’s what we need to know:

“We are behind on many things,” El Koubi said, ticking off a list that Acadiana leaders should keep handy. Those include substandard infrastructure - damaged roads, poor drainage, weak flood control, crumbling parks and schools - but they also pose challenges we can meet as a region, if we can only muster the needed will.

So what has changed for the almost four years of El Koubi’s leadership?

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has transformed itself into a regional leadership group that can benefit more people across more parish lines. The leadership has a shared, unified vision of what success means.

Acadiana has certified sites for business and industrial development. These include 700-plus acres to develop in Jefferson Davis Parish. There’s a certified business site in Carencro.

Acadiana’s positives multiplied under the regional concept. Lafayette and its neighbors can recognize and tout the pluses of having access to ports in St. Mary and Iberia parishes, available land in Acadia and St. Landry parishes, an enhanced airport in Lafayette Parish, interstate highways throughout the region. All of Acadiana - it includes Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermilion parishes - can use those pooled strengths.

One Acadiana has an accomplished and vigorous staff in place, a “concierge service” to market the unified region to prospective business and industrial investors.

There’s this, too: El Koubi fostered and promoted the common cause of this region, reminding us that people in the next parishes need not be rivals but partners for shared success.

What’s next? One Acadiana’s permanent leadership ought to pursue another educated, competent, experienced professional who appreciates regional strengths and challenges, who looks at the future with optimism. The region needs another collaborative force who recognizes that among diverse people across many parish lines there can be a shared identity and common mission. We need a collaborative consensus builder.

We’ve had that leader and prospered. Let’s find the next one.

Online: https://www.theadvertiser.com/

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