Louisiana editorial roundup
Posted September 27
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on legislator Neil Riser running for state treasurer:
The office of treasurer needs a leader with expertise in financial management and a commitment to protect Louisiana taxpayers' investment in government. The person who holds this office is essentially the state's top banker -- monitoring investments, ensuring we can pay our bills and working with credit-rating agencies.
Our editorial board believes Neil Riser is the best candidate for the job.
Sen. Riser, a Republican from Columbia, is a respected veteran of the state Senate. He also is a business owner and longtime board member of Caldwell Bank and Trust in Columbia. In the Senate, he is chairman of the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee. He also serves on the influential Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee, which oversees tax policy. He chaired that committee for four years and served during that period on Louisiana's Bond Commission, which oversees public construction projects and state debt.
That experience would serve him well as treasurer, where he would head the Bond Commission and set its agenda.
Sen. Riser has a bachelor of science degree in business management from Northeast Louisiana University, which is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He is president of Riser Funeral Home, which his family has operated since 1934. He has been a member of the Caldwell Bank board for 24 years.
He was elected in 2007 to represent Senate District 32, which runs from West Feliciana to Ouachita parish.
Sen. Riser has been a fiscally conservative lawmaker, and he promises to be "a watchdog" as treasurer. "The people of Louisiana want their tax money spent wisely and prioritized so that the neediest among us have access to vital services. We must have a Treasurer who will be a strong voice for fiscal responsibility so that state government can perform its basic functions in an efficient manner," he said in written statement.
He said he will work to bring stability to state finances to help improve Louisiana's bond rating and to toughen requirements for contracting. He also promises to create a user-friendly website to allow taxpayers to see how their money is being spent.
His business experience makes him well suited to be treasurer. His knowledge of the state's budget and the workings of the Legislature should help him achieve his goals.
Sen. Riser is vying to replace John Kennedy, who held the office for 17 years before moving to the U.S. Senate this year. Early voting is Sept. 30 through Oct. 7, and the primary election is scheduled for Oct. 14.
The Advocate of Baton Rouge on how Louisiana public education ranks among other states:
When it comes to being high on the bad lists, and low on the good lists, we have an all-purpose reply in Louisiana: "Thank God for Mississippi!"
As is obvious, Louisiana continues to struggle in public education. We're still not very high on the good list.
But people's perceptions might change a bit if they look at some new rankings that have come out recently.
How about a state that ranks above Mississippi and Alabama, yes, but also Nevada and North Carolina? And that is not by subjective measures, but by a respected and nationally administered test?
A new report from the ACT organization in Iowa said Louisiana is 43rd among the states for its college-readiness score. But that data includes states where only the best students take the test, which is voluntary in most of the country. Obviously, those are a self-selected category of college-bound students. In many states, too, students might opt for the SAT, another college readiness exam.
All that said, here is the good news: Among the 17 states where all students take the ACT, Louisiana ranked 10th and ahead of a number of states. Those include Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Nevada.
Not as bad as might be expected, and the result of a slow but steady progression in ACT scores by Louisiana students.
State officials announced that public high school students had a composite score of 19.6, up from 19.5 last year. The ACT rankings list Louisiana's composite as 19.5 because it includes both public and private school students, and relies on the last score.
State officials use only public student results and the best score, which is why the scores differ slightly.
Small score gains add up.
Manifestly, the report is not a cause for a parade. The U.S. average is 21 among the states, including the District of Columbia. In Minnesota, all students take the test and their average is 21.5.
So there is a great deal of work to do.
But as Superintendent John White said, Louisiana is among the top three in the South among the states where the ACT is a universal requirement.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education passed the 100 percent policy in 2012. While it is a specific college-readiness measurement, the mandate was intended to encourage more students to look beyond high school, toward post-secondary education in a community college, or in technical job training.
Scores may fluctuate, but the day-in and day-out work of students and their teachers is showing progress in Louisiana public education.
The Daily Comet of Thibodaux on a state committee's recommendation about school discipline rules:
A state committee looking into ways to revamp school discipline rules has come up with a promising recommendation: Remove "zero tolerance" mandates that take make automatic determinations without considering any of the surrounding factors.
This is an important issue. In 2014-15, the most recent for which statistics are available, about 60,000 students were suspended from public schools across Louisiana. About two-thirds of those students are black.
That is a wildly disproportionate number in a state where only 45 percent of the public school students are black.
Another 18 percent of the suspensions were of students with disabilities.
Part of the reason behind the suspension numbers is that state law employs zero tolerance policies that require certain disciplinary actions in response to certain offenses.
While that might seem to make some sense, it actually works against administrators' and teachers' ability to use common sense and best practices in meting out discipline. It prohibits the decision makers from actually making decisions based on all the factors surrounding each incident.
The Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline is trying to recommend ways the state can get on the right path toward classrooms where students are able to learn while addressing some of the disparities in the discipline numbers.
Council Chairwoman Jennifer Coco, a New Orleans lawyer, said taking away zero tolerance mandates would place discipline decisions back in the hands of the people best able to make them.
"Can we differentiate between ... serious consequences versus the student who has been disrespectful?" she asked.
The key going forward will be to give local educators and administrators more flexibility in how to handle their students — a principle that should work better than trying to implement a one-size-fits-all approach at the state level.
The council is off to a good start.
Removing zero tolerance mandates won't fix everything that's wrong with public school discipline, but it will put power and discretion back in the hands of the people most able to use it wisely.
"I see it as an opportunity to trust those school leaders more," said council member Caroline Roemer.
That is a great step in the right direction.
The discipline numbers are so skewed that this one simple step likely won't fix them. But it will return some local control to our schools — where it belongs.