The Daily Dime returns today after a six-week holiday sabbatical (we hope you missed us), and much happened while we were gone.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program returned to the spotlight after the state Department of Education reported 45 percent of voucher students attended a D or F school in the program’s first year and the Legislative Auditor’s Office documented 35 instances where voucher schools overcharged the state for tuition. The Public Affairs Research Council took an in-depth look at the privatization of the LSU hospitals, and found that it could produce financial shortfalls within five years. The state’s tax amnesty program – which was counted on to fill gaps in the Medicaid program – brought in far more money than expected, although economists questioned how to property account for $67 million in debts paid with unused tax credits. Finally, LBP estimated that 30,400 Louisianans are at risk of losing access to unemployment benefits by the end of 2014 if their benefits are allowed to expire. This would both hurt Louisiana’s economy and increase hardship for people who are willing to work, but simply haven’t found a job.
The War On Poverty at 50: Much progress, but work remains
Wednesday marks a half-century since President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty with his 1963 State of the Union address. The New York Times marks the occasion with a look back at its successes and failures – at a time when safety-net programs are under assault by conservatives on Capitol Hill and President Obama calls economic inequality the “defining challenge of our time.” The Paper of Record finds that while the job is far from over, things are much better today than when LBJ gave his speech. “(A) broad range of researchers interviewed by The New York Times stressed the improvement in the lives of low-income Americans since Mr. Johnson started his crusade. Infant mortality has dropped, college completion rates have soared, millions of women have entered the work force, malnutrition has all but disappeared. After all, when Mr. Johnson announced his campaign, parts of Appalachia lacked electricity and indoor plumbing.
“Many economists argue that the official poverty rate grossly understates the impact of government programs. The headline poverty rate counts only cash income, not the value of in-kind benefits like food stamps. A fuller accounting suggests the poverty rate has dropped to 16 percent today, from 26 percent in the late 1960s, economists say.”
State attorney general petitions for new BP oil spill judge
Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell is asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to transfer some of its BP oil spill-related claims to another judge after alleging that U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier is ignoring some of the state’s claims. As USA Today reports, Barbier oversees most of the federal litigation spawned by the nation’s worst offshore oil spill. Last year, he presided over two phases of a trial for a host of claims against BP and its contractors by the Gulf states, the federal government and businesses and residents who claim the spill cost them money. Barbier hasn’t ruled on the major legal issues from the first two phases. He has said he intends to hold a third “damages phase” of the trial but hasn’t scheduled it yet. Caldwell’s court filing says Louisiana shouldn’t have to wait any longer and deserves to proceed with a separate trial for the state’s economic loss claims.
State panel recommends funding mechanism for Course Choice program
A state task force is set to recommend changes to the way Louisiana finances the controversial Course Choice program, which allows students to enroll in online classes from private providers. Roughly $3 million in funding from the program was originally included in the funding formula for public schools (Minimum Foundation Program), but the state Supreme Court ruled that mechanism was unconstitutional. The program is now being financed from a 1986 oil and gas settlement, but education officials say that is not sustainable. The task force also will recommend that public school funding be increased by $70 million in 2013-14 – which would mark the second straight year that schools got an inflationary increase after years of stagnant budgets.
Louisiana switches to HiSET from GED due to costs, accessibility issues
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System is leaving the GED after 71 years in favor of HiSET, which stands for High School Equivalency Test. While HiSET tests the same five subject areas as the GED – science, math, reading, writing and social studies – state officials say they made the switch due to changes with the GED that increased its costs and lowered accessibility. Both tests require students to pay a $90 fee for the first test, but new changes require students to pay $60 to retake the entire GED if they fail at least one section. HiSET allows students to retake only the sections they failed for $15 per section. In addition, GED is requiring all tests to be administered by computer, which creates complications for students using paper-based study materials and complications for test centers that are not equipped to add more computers. HiSET is transitioning to a computer-only model, but that change is likely years away.