Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Campaigns should focus on the working class; Candidates differ on education issues; Louisiana improving and declining in test scores and; Anti-poverty initiatives working better than we thought

Campaigns should focus on the working class

With the Nov. 21 statewide runoff barely three weeks away, a letter to the editor published in the Advocate asks the question: When did politicians stop focusing on the needs of the working class? Matt Bailey, who chairs LBP’s board of directors, wants candidates to focus on the needs of constituents who are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Politics aside, it is just good policy:


Based on research, we know that investing in policies like raising the Earned Income Tax Credit encourages work, puts more money in the pockets of working families and helps get families on a better path. We know that cash assistance to struggling families doesn’t corrupt the poor but leads to tangible benefits like better nutrition, education and future earning potential for children. We know that investing in early childhood development and education leads to tangible improvements in educational and career success and pays social dividends of 7-to-1 or more in reduced expenditures on criminal justice, remedial education and other social programs later. Science even shows us that putting a few extra dollars in the parents’ pockets can actually increase the brain size of their children.


This election cycle, I haven’t heard much talk about poverty or working-class issues. Have we all gotten rich? The answer to that is clearly no. According to a recent report by the Louisiana Budget Project, the median wage in Louisiana in 2014 stands at just $15.63 an hour or just over $32,000 a year. So why aren’t we hearing more about the “working man” from our politicians these days? It could be that no one wants to talk about a subject that is both unpopular and intractable, or it could be that our political campaigns have become so focused on rich donors that the politicians have forgotten who they really work for. Regardless, the people of Louisiana — the vast majority of whom are either poor or working class — need leaders who will listen to them, pay attention to the data and make good decisions that will not only help “regular folk” and their children but will strengthen our state as a whole.


Candidates differ on education issues

Gubernatorial candidates John Bel Edwards and David Vitter have different views on the future of public schools in Louisiana. The Advocate’s Will Sentell says the anti-Common Core sentiments of both candidates took center stage in the primary and overshadowed the deep divide between them on other  K-12 issues.


Edwards is a longtime ally of state teachers unions, which have bitterly opposed most of the sweeping school changes enacted since 2012.  Vitter, a U.S. senator from Metairie, generally favors the business model for overhauling schools, with lots of options just like those enacted three years ago. Edwards is a critic of school vouchers, long denounced by traditional public school groups. Vitter backs them, as does state Superintendent of Education John White and his allies on the other side of the pro-Edwards divide.

Vitter supports charter schools. Edwards is a charter school critic, and he has tried unsuccessfully to restrict their growth. Edwards opposed letter grades for public schools in 2010, and he says they present a false picture. In a prepared statement, Vitter said Tuesday that the state’s grading system “provides transparency and accountability for the parents and schools” but should be expanded to include more than standardized test results.


Louisiana improving and declining in test scores
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the “Nation’s Report Card”, has mixed results for Louisiana students. The good news: Scores for fourth-graders improved. The bad: only 29 percent scored “proficient” in reading–six points lower than the national average. Our eighth-graders have some work to do in math, with only 18 percent deemed proficient–14 points below the national average. The Associated Press has the story:


The Louisiana Department of Education’s analysis of the figures shows the state moving up in its overall NAEP ranking in fourth-grade reading proficiency from 50th in 2009 to 43rd this year. The state edged up from 48th to 45th in fourth-grade math but is stuck at 48th in eighth-grade reading. For eighth-grade math, the state slipped from 45th in 2009 to 49th this year…The NAEP tests are not part of the state’s school accountability program. The state notes in its analysis that, in an average state, they are administered to 2,500 students in about 100 public schools. By contrast the Common Core-aligned tests given for the first time this year in Louisiana were taken by 320,000 students in all public schools. Both tests showed how far the state has to go in terms of raising student achievement to proficiency — or “mastery” in the language of the state Common Core-aligned tests. The percentage of students achieving mastery in state test results released earlier this month ranged from from 22 percent (7th grade math) to 40 percent (8th grade English Language Arts).


Anti-poverty initiatives working better than we thought
A new study found that because people either tend not to reveal how much assistance they receive from the government or they underestimate the amount, SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) and housing vouchers may reduce poverty almost twice as much as we thought. According to, instead of using the Current Population Survey’s (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to measure the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs, researches used actual government data. Here’s some of what they found:


Our survey data on how many people are using these programs, and how much they’re getting, is really, really wrong. How wrong? Well, from 2008 to 2011 in New York, the average poverty rate before taking these programs into account was 13.6 percent. According to the survey data, food stamps/welfare/housing assistance dropped that down to 10.8 percent. But according to the more accurate administrative data, those programs actually cut the rate to 8.3 percent. Using the right numbers, in other words, nearly doubles the poverty-fighting power of these programs…The survey’s shortcomings are even greater when you look at households headed by a single mother, a particularly vulnerable group with a poverty rate of 37.5 percent before these programs are taken into account. The survey data suggests that welfare/food stamps/housing assistance cut that down to 30.2 percent. The administrative data suggests they actually cut it to 19.2 percent.


Number of the Day

23 – Percentage of Louisiana eighth-graders who are proficient at reading – 10 points below the national average. (Source: National Assessment of Educational Progress via AP)