Louisiana editorial roundup
Posted June 14
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Houma Courier on a paddling ban:
The legislative session that ended last week in Baton Rouge was marked by a lack of progress on many fronts, including the state's pressing and ongoing fiscal challenges.
But in at least one category, the session was a success.
Disabled students, no matter where they live in the state, no longer have to go to school afraid that they will be paddled for disciplinary problems.
The ban on paddling disabled students passed unanimously through the state House and Senate after the House defeated a separate bill that would have outlawed corporal punishment altogether.
Most states prohibit beating students. And 31 of 69 school districts here don't allow the practice. But lawmakers are protective — perhaps too protective — of the local districts that still favor physical punishment.
Still, the ban on striking disabled students is a positive development.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, about one in six students who were paddled in the 2015-16 school year were disabled.
That group applauded the state's new prohibition.
"This is a welcomed and long-overdue policy change that will ensure that our most vulnerable students are protected from this cruel and ineffective practice," said Sarah Omojola, policy counsel for the law center.
There is a vast array of educational practices and curricula that are best left up to the discretion of local school boards. Beating the disabled is not one of them.
People in the north or south of the state, rural or urban areas, should be able to agree that striking disabled students is a barbaric practice that is unlikely to result in improved discipline or classroom morale.
Perhaps lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards can work together to come up with a plan that is acceptable to all sides that will prohibit the practice of paddling for all students.
Allowing school employees to beat children is an invitation to abuse and brings about a slew of potential legal entanglements. For now, though, Louisiana's students and parents will have to be satisfied with a step in the right direction, even if it is far too modest a step.
A late change to the bill expanded its reach from students with conditions such as autism, developmental delay and other learning issues to also include students who suffer from medical issues.
Doing so added tens of thousands of students who will be protected under the new law.
This is a good step. Louisiana's students, particularly its most vulnerable, deserve to feel safe at school. They should never fear physical punishment in a setting that should encourage learning.
The Advocate on a lawsuit that seeks to undermine John White and Louisiana's educational progress:
The Louisiana Legislature is not a place for the squeamish when it comes to rhetoric, but even lawmakers listening to state Sen. John Milkovich had qualms the other day.
The Shreveport Democrat's attacks in the education committee on state Superintendent John White were so harsh that Milkovich's colleagues told him to tone it down, especially as White was not there that day to defend himself. The senators then voted 4-2 to reject Milkovich's bill aimed at reversing the much-debated Common Core academic standards in schools.
This isn't so much about the controversies that have involved White, though those have been considerable. Milkovich is one of the peddlers of crackpot theories that Common Core standards are part of a United Nations or other collectivist plot to undermine local control of America's schools.
That's blatant nonsense, but Milkovich's performances on this issue certainly color our views of his latest initiative to undermine White and the education progress the superintendent has helped to lead in Louisiana.
Milkovich, a lawyer, is arguing the case for a set of other critics of White in a lawsuit challenging the decision of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to keep the superintendent on the job.
BESE hired White in 2012, and since then a new BESE board has been elected. The majority of the board backs White, much to the chagrin of his critics, but he works on a month-to-month contract because eight votes of the 11-member board are required to offer him a long-term contract.
It also takes eight votes to fire a superintendent, and White's critics are in the minority, so those votes aren't available. Milkovich's argument is that while White was confirmed by the Senate in 2012, he should be reconfirmed because a BESE election has occurred since.
If this sounds a little picayune, if not petty, it is.
Critics of some of White's policies, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, had their shot at the ballot box in 2015. Seven of eight BESE members were elected as supporters of keeping White. Even with three direct appointments of the other members, the governor does not have the power to fire the superintendent — and that is as it should be.
The Louisiana Constitution gives the authority to BESE, not the governor or, for that matter, aggrieved senators with persecution complexes. To invent a new "reconfirmation" process for a superintendent who is serving legally seems a stretch.
What also should not be forgotten is that White is a success.
No one would argue that Louisiana is where we want it to be in public education. That said, improvements are clear in objective measures like graduation rates and test scores. White's initiatives in vocational training and other areas represent the kinds of things that Louisiana needs to do, and build upon.
Aside from the nuttiness of those seeing the malign influence of the United Nations or other conspirators against Louisiana school boards, we see the real motivation for the attacks on White: a commitment to accountability in public education.
We do not always agree with the superintendent, nor do all the BESE members, but he is respected in the nation and an energetic leader in the system. Any drive to overturn BESE's power to hire and fire a superintendent is not only dubious to us legally, but remarkably ill-timed.
The Times-Picayune on the legislature ignoring Louisiana's tax flaws:
After the budget meltdown on the final day of the legislative session, it's hard to imagine this group of lawmakers working together to reform Louisiana's tax system.
They couldn't even agree on how much money they had to spend for the next year and now are spending more of our money on a special session to complete the budget.
Perhaps it's a good thing for them that they killed legislation that would have made it easier for voters to recall elected officials. There might have been a bunch of petitions circulating by now.
But this is the Legislature we're stuck with for two more years, and we ought to demand better of them. Getting a balanced budget passed is only the beginning of what they need to do.
Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, and Michael Olivier, CEO of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, are trying to get lawmakers focused on the long-term.
"The 2017 legislative session was supposed to be the session where we stood up, said enough is enough, and took the necessary steps to address our chronic fiscal problems with comprehensive and permanent solutions. Sadly, that didn't happen, although many bills were filed toward that goal," they said in a letter released after the regular session ended.
The state has more than a billion dollars in temporary taxes, which could plunge the state into a financial hole next year. Louisiana has the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the nation. Although income and property taxes are relatively low, the economy isn't thriving.
"For close to a decade Louisiana has been battling a structural budget deficit which has led to three credit downgrades, deep reductions in both higher education and the programs that train our future workforce, and declines in state rankings," they said in their letter. "All of these reflect how negatively our economy is perceived."
Both CABL and the Committee of 100 have been pushing for years for tax and budget reform. They were part of the Task Force on Structural Change in Budget and Tax Policy, which gave lawmakers a sensible strategy last fall for creating a simpler, fairer and more stable tax system.
The 13-member task force recommended broadening the tax base and lowering personal, corporate and sales tax rates. The report, which was released in November, also called for reducing or eliminating the federal income tax deduction on state tax returns and doing away with many tax credits. Task force members urged lawmakers to view the reforms as a whole. That didn't happen, of course.
Advocates for reform must be frustrated with the lack of interest shown by most lawmakers to the task force report. But they aren't giving up.
"As disappointing as this session was for fiscal reform, we hope to have another opportunity to get it right before the temporary taxes expire next year," Mr. Erwin and Mr. Olivier said in their letter. "It is our hope that lawmakers will reflect on this lackluster session, consider the substantial future damage we can avoid, and return in a special session with firm plans to address our fiscal woes in a responsible and comprehensive fashion ..."
They are right. Once legislators get a budget passed and head back home, they need to take a hard look at themselves. The Legislature needs to stop its partisan bickering, and some members need to stop being afraid of voting on a tax.
The state should have a balanced, fair tax system that provides predictable revenue for state services. That may mean some taxes have to go up, but others can go down.
Legislators shouldn't be scared to make those changes.