Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014

Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014

The War on Poverty at 50: more work to do; State senator proposes changes to Tulane legislative scholarship; Jindal administration asks federal judge to rescind desegregation order; Payday loan industry faces fresh scrutiny in Shreveport; Teacher describes 15 months in virtual charter hell; and Texas Brine insurance dispute leaves local agencies in financial limbo. $207 – The average weekly unemployment benefit in Louisiana, which ranks third-lowest in the country (Source: Louisiana Workforce Commission)

The War on Poverty at 50: more work to do
A half-century ago this afternoon, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty as part of his first State of the Union address — from which the Medicare and Medicaid programs would soon be launched, and the modern-day social safety net would evolve. Today the debate continues to rage in Washington — and in statehouses around the country — over the effectiveness of that campaign, and whether the safety net should be strengthened or scaled back. Sharon Parrott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities takes a nuanced look at the state of poverty in America and finds that safety net programs have cut poverty nearly in half, but that the job is far from finished. “In 2012, (the safety net) kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM).  If government benefits are excluded, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent under the SPM; with those benefits, the rate is 16 percent,” Parrott writes. Read the full text of Johnson’s speech here.

State senator proposes changes to Tulane legislative scholarship
The only-in-Louisiana practice of letting state lawmakers award full scholarships to a private university will come up for new scrutiny in the upcoming legislative session. State Sen. Dan Claitor – who is running for Congress in the 6th District — has filed the “Legislative Scholarship Fairness Act”, which would ban scholarship awards to relatives and donors of legislators, and require public disclosure of who gets the scholarships. “I want to make the program better known and more understood and eliminate that insider feel that it has,” Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, told The Advocate. “It can be an insider game. It should not be that. It should be totally transparent and available to any Louisiana person.” Senate Bill 1 also proposes giving preference to surviving children of soldiers and other public servants killed in the line of duty.

Jindal administration asks federal judge to rescind desegregation order
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is asking a federal judge end a desegregation order that bans the state from giving public funds — including school vouchers — to all-white private schools. The 1976 landmark Brumfield vs. Dodd decision was rendered after the United States found evidence that Louisiana officials were using taxpayer dollars to encourage white flight after being ordered to integrate public schools. The desegregation order still applies to about half of the state’s school systems. The Jindal administration wants Judge Ivan Lemelle to end the order, saying the state has complied with the law for several decades. Jindal’s lawyers are also asking Lemelle to reconsider his November decision that allows the Justice Department to monitor the state’s school voucher program to ensure it does not promote segregation.

Payday loan industry faces fresh scrutiny in Shreveport
Louisiana has four payday lenders for every McDonald’s restaurant – most of them concentrated in or near low-income neighborhoods – that specialize in making short-term, high-interest loans to vulnerable families. But a growing coalition of organizations wants curbs on the industry. LBP Board Chairman Matthew Bailey helped explain the problems with the payday industry in a recent news segment by KTBS-TV in Shreveport.  “The fees and the short-term nature of those loans means that most customers will end up paying much, much more than they ever borrow and that’ll be in a very short period of time,” Bailey told the station, which also cited studies that show repayment of payday loans can consume one-third or more of a borrowers’ paycheck.

Teacher describes 15 months in virtual charter hell
After working for an online education company with a strong foothold in Louisiana, former teacher Darcy Bedortha is speaking out about her 15 months in virtual charter hell. Bedortha worked for K12, which runs the 1,795-student Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy for a nonprofit board and offers 21 freestanding classes through the state’s Course Choice mini-voucher program. As Nola.com summarizes, Students cycled in and out of the courses, Bedortha wrote. They failed tests, disappeared, skipped the virtual “class time” and wrote about the violence in their lives, needing support she could not give them. The teachers were underpaid and barely had any actual teaching time, while management talked only of test scores and how to enroll more students.

Texas Brine insurance dispute leaves local agencies in financial limbo
In the ongoing saga surrounding the Assumption Parish sinkhole, Houston-based Texas Brine – the company held responsible for the 26-acre sinkhole – filed a formal complaint with the Louisiana Department of Insurance alleging that one of the company’s insurers is not honoring its policy. According to the complaint, Arch Specialty Insurance Co. has neither reimbursed Texas Brine for its $55 million in costs from the state-mandated response nor reimbursed the costs to local government entities. Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said his office is owed $176,459, and the parish Police Jury said it is owed almost $171,000. Representatives from Arch would not comment on the issue.

$207 – The average weekly unemployment benefit in Louisiana, which ranks third-lowest in the country (Source: Louisiana Workforce Commission)