Louisiana editorial roundup

Posted August 30

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


Aug. 29

The Times-Picayune on helping Texas after the state provided assistance following Hurricane Katrina:

Twelve years ago, when hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians were forced out of their homes for weeks by broken levees, Houston opened its arms.

In an editorial Monday, The Dallas Morning News offered a reminder of just how much the Space City did to help us after Hurricane Katrina.

"Twelve years ago this week, the city of Houston responded with heroic life-saving actions to the near drowning of New Orleans. This as-big-as-Texas effort earned Houston this newspaper's Texan of the Year designation for 2005," the editorial says. "For the sake of those traumatized survivors, Houston met the challenge with the largest shelter operation in the nation's history. More than 150,000 of the approximately 250,000 evacuees would eventually make Harris County their permanent home."

Issa Dadoush, Houston's then-director of building services in 2005, explained why the city did what it did: "These are Americans. They're our neighbors. If not Houston, who else?" That open-hearted attitude was a comfort to south Louisianans.

The Astrodome was a temporary home to thousands of New Orleanians. "Some people didn't have medication, a lot of people left their glasses, some people had no clothes. They had no food to eat, they had no water to drink," Rick Flanagan, emergency management coordinator for the city of Houston, said on the 10th anniversary.

In 2015, former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said of Houston: "Katrina was probably its finest moment. And it's got a place in history assured from the way Houston welcomed through that gateway 60,000 people and ultimately maybe a quarter million people into the Houston area after Katrina."

As the Dallas Morning News editorial noted, now "it's the rescuer in need of rescue." The devastation in and around Houston from Hurricane Harvey is heartbreaking. And people from across greater New Orleans and south Louisiana are responding en masse.

This time, we're the ones who can help.



Aug. 28

The Advocate on Louisiana's plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act getting approval from the Department of Education:

Louisiana's state plan for complying with a new federal law got quick approval from the U.S. Department of Education.

Quick, by federal standards, as it was submitted in April, but its provisions are now able to be carried out this school year — a real benefit, compared to the calls for delay in submission of the new plan.

Gov. John Bel Edwards had urged the state Department of Education to further deliberate on the plan, required under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the rather grandiosely named new federal law.

We thought that deliberation made little sense, as so much had earlier occurred; more than a thousand professionals and community stakeholders had already discussed the ESSA plan proposals. If the plan's submission had been delayed, it would not have been available — at the federal government's absolute quickest — for the new year.

That's for the best, even if we are not enamored of every part of the new proposals. But the broad guidelines are focused on accountability and student academic growth, the essentials of a successful school policy. The plan also sets limits on testing time in schools, something sought by the governor.

As might be expected, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised the Louisiana plan because it includes provisions for students in failing schools to choose another option. DeVos is a big advocate of options like that, but we do not see those as fundamental as the accountability provisions are.

Louisiana's plan is committed to an ambitious long-term goal: By 2025, students in A-rated schools will demonstrate full proficiency of literacy and math skills, a 90 percent graduation rate, and an ACT score of 21.

How to get there?

While those goals are significant aspirations, the U.S. DoE also praised a particular project of Superintendent John White, to provide a full year of mentoring for student teachers. White's department and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have cobbled together funding options for this shift, and we hope to see Louisiana follow through with this program.

New teachers will benefit, and their students, in turn, would as well.

"This plan calls for improvement for a generation of school children," White said. "It's time to get to work on making that improvement happen."

As important as ESSA plans are, the fundamentals remain in the classroom, and the vast bulk of funding for local public schools comes from Louisiana taxpayers. That is an investment in the state's collective future, and one that requires year-in, year-out commitment for this plan and for those that will come after it.



Aug. 26

Lake Charles American Press on state prison changes leading to releases:

The criminal justice reform that took place at the Legislature's last session and has received national praise could result in as many as 2,000 inmates being released from prison after Nov. 1. However, the state Department of Corrections is going to review the sentences of 16,000 inmates who could have their prison time reduced.

The 16,000 prison terms being reconsidered are for nonviolent offenses only, and many will likely remain unchanged, according to Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the Department of Corrections. Those serving for multiple offenses won't be affected, and those who are affected won't necessarily be getting out anytime soon, LeBlanc said.

Louisiana has the unwelcome distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the country. The Times-Picayune said the number of inmates in the corrections system was expected to reach 36,300 by November. If 2,000 are released, that would amount to a 5 percent decrease.

Each month, the system releases about 1,500 people. The 2,000 figure would be in addition to those normally discharged. Most of the state's inmates, about 55 percent, or 19,500 of them, are kept in local jails by sheriffs who are paid by the prison system. Local jails tend to house lower-level offenders who are less of a public safety risk. Those in state prisons are more likely to be serving longer prison sentences for violent offenses, most of which weren't changed by the reform legislation.

LeBlanc said review of the 16,000 records will be a tedious undertaking. Staff members have to check each individual's record by hand to some extent. Some inmates who are serving sentences for multiple offenses won't be affected. Others may not have completed the rehabilitation work required before being released at an earlier date. A few hundred people convicted of murder — mostly as juveniles — have also become eligible for parole under the sentencing changes. However, they will have to undergo a more rigorous process that includes consideration by the parole board before they would be released. Victims' families and district attorneys will also be able to object to the parole of violent offenders and that could keep them behind bars longer.

Criminal justice reform didn't go as far as some were advocating. However, what was done could eventually erase the state's horrible incarceration record, and that would be quite an accomplishment.



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