Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes raises for low-income workers; A War on Poverty, or War on the Poor?; State treasurer reveals his plan to fund higher education; Judge strikes down teacher tenure law for a second time; Louisiana lags nation in test scores, Education Week study finds; and Only four Louisiana colleges listed in online degree rankings. $5.28 billion – The amount Louisiana spent on consulting contracts in 2012 (Source: State Treasurer John Kennedy)

Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes raises for low-income workers
Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday that he will oppose efforts to establish a state minimum wage in Louisiana that is higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, and hinted that a veto would come should such legislation pass during the upcoming session. Jindal, who voted to raise the federal minimum wage as a member of Congress, said Louisiana should keep its minimum wage tied to the federal level, and said low-income workers would be better served by getting trained for higher-wage jobs. The governor said “workforce development” would be his top priority during the upcoming session, but refused to divulge any details of his plans in advance of the state budget rollout on Jan. 24. State support for higher education has been cut by nearly 67 percent on his watch.

The governor’s comments came during a rare visit with Louisiana reporters where he spent nearly an hour taking questions on a variety of issues. The governor continued to denounce the new federal health-care law, gave tacit support to the secessionist movement in Baton Rouge and said he wants state surplus dollars invested in education and health care. Jindal also announced that he is heading to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan next week in a bid to drum up new business investment for Louisiana — and perhaps burnish his foreign policy credentials in the process.

A War on Poverty, or War on the Poor?
House Republicans on Capitol Hill marked the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty with a press conference that denounced the effort as a failure — even though the poverty rate has been cut in half during the last half-century with the help of government safety-net programs. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank attended the spectacle, and neatly skewers the head of the Republican Study Committee’s “anti-poverty” initiative — “one Rep. Steve Southerland, a funeral director from the Florida Panhandle who is best known for heading an effort to dismantle the food-stamp program.”

“Other than making food-stamp recipients take nonexistent jobs, the RSC had few specific ideas for replacing the War on Poverty,” Milbank writes. “Some were old: reform the tax code, open the Keystone XL oil pipeline, issue private-school vouchers, remove restrictions on states. Others were mostly beyond the reach of policy: extolling the virtues of two-parent families and the good work of charities.”

State treasurer reveals his plan to fund higher education
State Treasurer John Kennedy is reviving his crusade to reduce the number of state consulting contracts — this time in the pretext of saving higher education. In a press release issued Wednesday, Kennedy called for a 10 percent reduction in state contracts, saying it would free up money to plug more than $528 million into colleges and universities that have been decimated by budget cuts in recent years. Kennedy has made several attempts over the years to make across-the-board cuts in state contracts, none of which have made it through the Legislature.

Judge strikes down teacher tenure law for a second time
A Baton Rouge judge ruled for the second time in two years that a controversial teacher tenure law, known as Act 1, is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution’s “single-object” clause. The ruling from 19th Judicial District Judge Michael Caldwell came after the state Supreme Court asked him to reconsider his earlier ruling on the matter. In the more recent case, Caldwell agreed that many parts of Act 1 did have “some meager semblances of a uniting theme” but that theme was not apparent in all of its parts or its title. The Jindal administration is appealing the case to the Supreme Court, ensuring more legal billings for lawyer Jimmy Faircloth.

Louisiana lags nation in test scores, Education Week study finds
Despite reassurances from education officials that the state’s school voucher and Course Choice programs are working, a new report by Education Week shows Louisiana continues to lag the rest of the nation in public school reading and mathematics proficiency rates. According to the study, the Pelican State ranks 50th in fourth-grade math proficiency, 48th in eight-grade math proficiency and 48th in reading proficiency for both grades.

Only four Louisiana colleges listed in online degree rankings
Only four Louisiana universities were ranked in the top 200 of the U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 rankings of online degree programs. Loyola University in New Orleans ranked the highest at 32nd, followed by Northwestern State University in Natchitoches (108th), Nicholls State University in Thibodaux (141st) and The University of Louisiana at Monroe (160th). Education officials said several factors played a role in other universities’ exclusion from the list, including the fact that many programs are newer and haven’t had time to establish themselves. In addition, the ranking does not count hybrid online programs where students are required to travel to a campus a few times over the course of completing a program.

$5.28 billion – The amount Louisiana spent on consulting contracts in 2012 (Source: State Treasurer John Kennedy)