Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Medicaid expansion gaining momentum; Candidates talk higher education; Another call for fiscal reform and; Common Core results don’t change much

Medicaid expansion gaining momentum

The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace reports that any of the four major candidates for governor will likely move forward with Medicaid expansion once elected – and they’re not the only ones who seem to be embracing the idea. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Council for a Better Louisiana and Blueprint Louisiana have finally come out in support health coverage for low-wage workers, recognizing that it would bring broad benefits.


“If we strip away emotion, there’s a layer of practicality,” said Adam Knapp, BRAC’s president and CEO. His organization is circulating a Power Point outlining the revenue the state is slated to lose without expansion — more than $23 billion over 10 years, according to the Urban Institute. The new federal dollars would support 15,600 new jobs across all sectors and create $1.8 billion in economic activity within two years, the analysis says, and could save $267 million in uncompensated care costs over a decade.


Phillip Rozeman, a Shreveport physician who chairs Blueprint Louisiana, made a similar case. Rozeman said expansion would be a win for low-income patients, including many who “have jobs that don’t pay a lot but are trying to support their families,” as well as providers like himself, graduate medical education and the state’s precariously funded public-private hospital partnerships. “It’s hard to watch tax dollars go to the federal government from Louisiana and we don’t get anything back from it,” he added.


While it’s clear that Jindal’s imminent departure creates opportunity for a change in policy, all said the campaign is just one of many factors: Others include the state’s immediate and long-term fiscal woes, the needs of the privatized hospitals, the certainty that the law isn’t going away now that it has survived several legal challenges, the looming reduction in a separate federal revenue stream for uncompensated care and new legislation that allows the state to turn to private hospitals to come up with the local share, which will gradually rise to 10 percent after this fiscal year.


Candidates talk higher education
Louisiana has cut state support for higher education more than any other state, on a per-capita basis, yet some critics insist that we should wring more savings out of college campuses. David Vitter is the only one of the four major candidates that has said he would even consider closing a college campus. But the other major gubernatorial candidates also are calling for new savings in higher education. Julia O’Donoghue of the Nola.com has the details:


Vitter and Dardenne, in particular, have talked about cutting down on similar academic programs that exist at nearby institutions. Specifically, Vitter has mentioned consolidating the four public nursing programs at higher education institutions in the Shreveport-Bossier area. Vitter has also said he wants more two-year and four-year institutions to share space with each other. When asked for details, the Vitter campaign said it would look to copy a space-sharing arrangement that currently exists between Southeastern University and the Northshore Technical Community College. The Vitter campaign did not say what campuses he thought would benefit from sharing space. Dardenne — who also wants institutions to share space — also didn’t give specifics about which campuses might be affected, saying he would leave such decisions up to the Louisiana Board of Regents.


Angelle and Edwards have focused less on how to cut down on duplicative programs or space-sharing arrangements. Angelle, a Republican who serves on the LSU Board of Supervisors, has offered few specifics about his plans for higher education, other than a desire to increase funding for public colleges and universities. Edwards, the only Democrat in the race, has been more specific about targets for boosting higher education support. He said he wants Louisiana’s colleges and universities to be funded half from tuition and half from state funding. (Currently, about 70 percent of higher education funding comes from tuition.)


Another call for fiscal reform

The Daily Comet’s editorial board has had enough of cuts to higher education and is calling on the next governor to make some big changes. The paper says LSU Chancellor and President F. King Alexander recently pointed out that Louisiana has cut more funding for higher education than any other state while at the same time we have risen to first in the nation in per capita spending on our prisons.


The fundamental point is that our state has a skewed set of priorities. It is a set that must change. It would be nice to hear the candidates for governor speak in meaningful terms about how they would address our fiscal shortcomings to ensure enough money is devoted to higher education. One significant difficulty is that the state Constitution protects the money spent in many areas of the budget. Two areas that are unprotected are, ironically, health care and higher education — both pressing needs for our population. Our next governor will face the prospect of continuing to cut in the few areas it is currently possible or looking for other solutions. One would be fixing the failures of the Constitution and setting state priorities that can endure even periods of fiscal difficulty. We simply cannot afford to neglect higher education without risking years or decades of negative impact. Our state needs leadership on this issue — leadership that has not been evident in recent years.


Common Core results don’t change much

Students have received the results of their Common Core testing and, according to the Associated Press, the scores haven’t changed much. Common Core or no Common Core, Louisiana students have plenty of room for improvement. Math performance was a bit lower than in previous years – only 22 percent of students tested at “mastery” level for 7th grade math, and only 40 percent hit the “mastery” target in 8th grade English Language Arts:


The Common Core controversy aside, the results showed again that Louisiana has much room for improvement as it tries to give more students the knowledge needed to advance from grade to grade and on to post-secondary education and careers. And, while [Superintendent John] White said results were “roughly comparable” to those on the less rigorous tests of years’ past, there were signs that some struggled with the tougher exams…The test results and scores play a major role in the state’s accountability system for public schools. They are used in assigning a letter grade to each school and school district, a grade that can, among other things, determine whether a school is performing well enough to avoid a state takeover.


Number of the Day

320,000 – the number of Louisiana students in grades 3-8 that participated in Common Core testing last spring (Source: The Associated Press)