Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

Educational inequalities worse in Louisiana; Diversity makes you smarter; Medicaid expansion popular in Kentucky; and Tax collections down this year


Educational inequalities worse in Louisiana

Black students consistently score lower than white students on standardized tests nationwide, but in Louisiana, the problem is even worse. A new report from the US Chamber of Commerce says despite some recent score gains, large inequalities persist. Will Sentell with the Advocate has the details:


Black students make up 45.5 percent of Louisiana’s public school enrollment, behind only Mississippi. The report says how black students fared nationally this year in reading and math on a test called the nation’s report card is alarming, and scores in Louisiana are even worse. Among the findings: 16 percent of black fourth-graders in Louisiana scored proficient or higher in math compared to 19 percent of African-American students nationally and 40 percent among all students; 17 percent of black fourth-graders in Louisiana scored proficient or better in reading versus 18 percent nationally and 36 percent among all students. In eighth-grade math, 7 percent of Louisiana black students were proficient compared to 12 percent nationally and 33 percent among all students nationwide. In eighth-grade reading, 12 percent of black students in Louisiana were proficient or better compared to 15 percent nationally and 34 percent among all students. Despite the bleak numbers, the report says, scores are up since the early 1990s.


Test scores aren’t the only thing lagging in Louisiana. As the Dime reported yesterday, state support for K-12 education fell $463 per student from 2008 to 2014, adjusted for inflation.


Diversity makes you smarter

Yet again, a case challenging affirmative action was before the Supreme Court this week. One point of contention was whether a diverse student body improves the quality of education. Despite skepticism from affirmative action critics, the answer is yes, write professors Sheen Levine and David Stark in the New York Times:


Our research provides such evidence. Diversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions. Our findings show that such diversity actually benefits everyone, minorities and majority alike…For our study, we intentionally chose a situation that required analytical thinking, seemingly unaffected by ethnicity or race. We wanted to understand whether the benefits of diversity stem, as the common thinking has it, from some special perspectives or skills of minorities. What we actually found is that these benefits can arise merely from the very presence of minorities. In the initial responses, which were made before participants interacted, there were no statistically significant differences between participants in the homogeneous or diverse groups. Minority members did not bring some special knowledge.


The differences emerged only when participants began interacting with one another. When surrounded by people “like ourselves,” we are easily influenced, more likely to fall for wrong ideas. Diversity prompts better, critical thinking. It contributes to error detection. It keeps us from drifting toward miscalculation. Our findings suggest that racial and ethnic diversity matter for learning, the core purpose of a university. Increasing diversity is not only a way to let the historically disadvantaged into college, but also to promote sharper thinking for everyone.


Medicaid expansion popular in Kentucky

The election of Matt Bevin as Governor of Kentucky last month is potentially bad news for the 425,000 Kentuckians who receive health coverage through Medicaid expansion, given the new governor’s hostility to the program and stated desire to cut it. But despite Bevin’s win, it turns he is at odds with the people when it comes to the issue, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The New York Times reports:


Yet the Kaiser poll, conducted Nov. 18 through Dec. 1, found that 63 percent of Kentuckians have a favorable opinion of their state’s Medicaid expansion. Support for the expanded Medicaid program was significant even among Republicans, of whom 54 percent said they would prefer to keep Medicaid as it is rather than scale it back to cover fewer people. Of respondents who voted for Mr. Bevin last month, 43 percent said they preferred keeping the program as it is now…Over all, 72 percent of poll respondents said Mr. Bevin should keep Medicaid as it is, while 20 percent said he should scale it back so that fewer people are covered…Mr. Bevin, who defeated his Democratic opponent by nine points, seems to have grasped the political complexities of changing aspects of the law; after backing away from his initial call to reverse the Medicaid expansion, he softened his language in discussing it. “There is tremendous need; we know that,” Mr. Bevin said in his inaugural address on Tuesday, referring to Medicaid recipients.


Medicaid expansion is also popular with Louisianans. According to this year’s LSU Louisiana Survey, 60 percent support the policy, with 35 percent opposed.


Tax collections down this year

More bleak fiscal news for Louisiana: state treasurer John Kennedy says revenue collections are 12 percent lower than last year, five months into the state budget year. From the Baton Rouge Business Report:


Sales, severance and corporation/franchise tax receipts are all down so far this fiscal year…State general fund collections have shown a negative growth rate each month this fiscal year, Kennedy says in a news release, though the five-year baseline projection estimates the state general fund will grow by 2.13% this fiscal year.


That revenue is down is not a surprise. Last month, the Revenue Estimating Conference downgraded the revenue forecast by $370 million, triggering mid-year cuts that the Jindal administration “fixed” with more smoke and mirrors. On top of that, the state ended last year with a deficit, and the Legislative Fiscal Office has raised the concern of cash flow problems. The news from the treasurer is just one more reminder that Louisiana is facing a severe short-term revenue problem–a problem that will demand gov.-elect John Bel Edwards and the new Legislature’s immediate attention.


Number of the Day
60 percent – Share of Louisianans who support Medicaid expansion, compared to 35 percent opposed (Source: Louisiana Survey)