Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

TOPS disproportionately helps the white & wealthy; Transportation panel searches for answers; Louisiana gets a “C” in teacher training; and Federal spending in states

TOPS disproportionately helps the white & wealthy

Students receiving state-financed college scholarships are disproportionately white, female and hail from families that are substantially wealthier than the average Louisiana families, according to a report released by the Board of Regents Wednesday. As the AP reports, 79 percent of those receiving Taylor Opportunity Program for Students awards from 2003 through 2014 were white and 58 percent were women. They came from households with average incomes ranging from $70,000 to $99,000 a year, well above the state median of $44,164. The report comes amid rising concern about the skyrocketing cost of the program, which is budgeted at $250 million this year and is projected to grow as universities continue to raise tuition.


Despite concerns about cost, TOPS is so popular with Louisiana parents and middle-class voters that efforts to make changes have repeatedly stalled in the Legislature. Supporters say the program has boosted college enrollment and degrees in a state historically behind in educational attainment. But critics worry that if they don’t add greater limitations to the tuition aid, they won’t be able to afford the program or they’ll have to cut other aid to public colleges to pay for TOPS scholarships. Louisiana has spent $1.9 billion on the program since it started.


Transportation panel searches for answers

It costs Louisiana about $70 million a year just to do basic upkeep on its roads and bridges. But the state only spends about $27 million a year for that purpose, while nearly $60 million in transportation trust fund dollars goes to pay operational costs for the State Police. That disparity has become a source of frustration for legislators on a panel that is studying ways to boost money for transportation projects. The head of the state’s largest business lobby says the state should consider redirecting some of those dollars.


“The board has told us they want transportation to be one of our priorities this year,” (Louisiana Association of Business and Industry) President Stephen Waguespack told the Transportation Funding Task Force, which is studying the issue. Most of the ideas tossed around by state lawmakers and others would only make a minor dent in the state’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs. A final report from the committee’s monthslong study is due on Jan. 15.


Louisiana gets a “C” in teacher training

The National Council on Teacher Quality has given Louisiana a “C” grade for how it trains teachers, faulting the state for not requiring K-12 teachers to master core subject areas while praising the way it trains special education teachers. The same day the report was released, the Louisiana Department of Education announced a grant opportunity for teacher training.


The aid will allow 7 to 10 school districts to partner with educator training programs.

The assistance of up to $100,000 includes school-year residencies or apprenticeships for aspiring teachers, including the ability to work with top-rated mentor teachers, see whether they meet student learning targets and receive feedback from principals and other school leaders.

The aim of the latest round of grants, like the first round, is to move from theory-based academic coursework into actual teaching.School systems have until Jan. 30 to apply for the aid, which will extend from March, 2015 through June, 2016.


Federal spending in states

Data compiled  the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights the differences in how federal dollars are distributed among the states. Federal spending falls into five broad categories: retirement benefits such as Social Security, veterans benefits and disability; non-retirement benefits such as Medicare, food stamps and unemployment insurance; grants that cover Medicaid, transportation, education, housing and other programs; contracts for purchases of goods and services, half of which involve the military; and salaries and wages, including civilian and military personnel.


Some states get more federal dollars in certain categories thanks to simple demographics. Florida, for example, gets the second-highest dollar amount of retirement benefits, behind only California. Others owe their advantage to economic realities: The top five states in contracts, for example, are government- and defense-heavy Virginia, California, Texas, Maryland and the District.

As an example of the variation, the report points to Alaska and Louisiana, where federal spending was equivalent to 18 percent of each state’s gross domestic product last year. But in Louisiana, federal salaries and wages were equal to 1.4 percent of the state’s GDP; in Alaska, it was 4.4 percent. As a result, the report said, “Alaska’s economy would likely be more affected than Louisiana’s by federal salary and wage cuts.”


Number of the Day:

$1.9 billion – the amount of money Louisiana has spent on TOPS since its inception (Source: The Advocate)