Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

LEAP scores same as last year, but only 1 in 4 kids pass higher test standards; Fourth time the charm for contract bill; Privatization review bill rejected; and New Orleans Saints players flex union muscle. 40—Number of New Orleans Saints players it took to shelve a bill that would have watered down workers’ compensation rights (Source: The Advocate)

LEAP scores same as last year, but only 1 in 4 kids pass higher test standards
The Department of Education released annual LEAP test scores for third- through eighth-graders yesterday that showed 69 percent of students passed, reports the Times-Picayune. Average scores remained the same as last year, even as some parts of the tests were changed to bring them into line with Common Core standards, raising questions about whether the tests were harder than previous versions. While the content of the tests was changed, the “pass mark” was not adjusted to bring it in line with the new standards. Had the tests been graded using the higher mark, only 24 percent of students would have passed, education superintendent John White said.

Data showed that voucher students scored higher than last year, but still considerably below the statewide average, the Times-Picayune also reported. Forty-five percent of voucher students passed the LEAP tests — four-points higher than last year — while only 7 percent passed the higher mark.

Fear of falling test scores has driven some of the opposition to Common Core. Teachers’ unions have expressed concern that higher standards will drive test scores down and negatively impact teacher performance reviews and job security. In national assessments, Louisiana’s test scores continuously rank near the bottom compared to other states. Next year, Louisiana will switch to a multi-state test.

Fourth time the charm for contract bill
The Senate unanimously approved legislation backed by state treasurer John Kennedy to reduce the amount of state contracts and steer the savings to higher education.  As the Monroe News Star reports, House Bill 142 originally called for a 10 percent, across-the-board cut to all professional and consulting contracts. Louisiana’s state agencies have around $3 billion in such contracts.

But the bill was heavily amended by the Senate Finance committee and now requires contracts above $40,000 to be reviewed by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB), which could approve, amend or reject the deals. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that around 500 state contracts could be impacted, with a combined value of $250 million, though actual savings associated with the bill are uncertain.

Kennedy said the savings could run as high as $100 million. But the Baton Rouge Advocate was not impressed, and said any savings would likely be “small” or “illusory.”

“If Kennedy can point to some contracts that sound silly — and it’s a standard riff in his political speeches — upon closer inspection, most of them turn out to be services that the state needs. Big money in contracts goes for standardized testing or inspection of facilities or something of that nature, or “contracts” with the U.S. government or businesses for various services.”

Privatization review bill rejected
A bill designed to bring added scrutiny to state privatization deals was spiked Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee in a 7-3 vote. It was the second time Rep. Kenny Havard’s Privatization Review Act failed to pass after clearing the House unopposed. House Bill 128 would require the Legislative Auditor to evaluate and review privatization deals worth more than $5 million. The Jindal administration opposed the bill, the Advocate reported, with Division of Administration’s executive counsel Elizabeth Murrill saying it “goes well beyond the review process.” About 35 contracts, mostly involving health services, would have required review under the bill, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

New Orleans Saints players flex union muscle
It’s been a tough legislative session for Louisiana’s workers and their families. Proposals to raise the minimum wage and strengthen employment discrimination laws were killed. Low-income workers were denied access to affordable health coverage for the second year in a row, and college tuition continues to spiral upward, putting pressure on the middle-class as well. But workers did score one victory, when a bill to water down workers’ compensation for professional athletes was pulled.

House Bill 1069 by Rep. Chris Broadwater would have changed how workers’ compensation was calculated, which in practice would have boosted New Orleans Saints’ owner Tom Benson’s profits at the expense of players’ benefits. The NFL Players Association opposed the change on the grounds that it would be unfair to lower-profile and lower-paid athletes who are less financially secure than high-profile players. More than 40 players took a bus to the Capitol on Tuesday to oppose the measure, according to the Advocate:

As you can see behind me, we’ve got about 40 guys here, driving up after practice through the rain to get here. So that just shows how important it is to us. At the end of the day, it’s about showing how important protecting our workers comp rights as Louisiana workers is, and we’re here to make sure those rights are protected,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.

After the bill was pulled, the House paused its proceedings so that legislators and lobbyists could pose for pictures with players. A similar trip to the Capitol earlier in the session by minimum wage workers had much less of an impact on pending legislation and garnered no photo ops.

40—Number of New Orleans Saints players it took to shelve a bill that would have watered down workers’ compensation rights (Source: The Advocate)