Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cutting hospitals to save TOPS?; Mother’s Day wish; Teacher evaluations may change and; Lawsuit calls for prisoner release

Cutting hospitals to save TOPS?
The big pieces of the state’s budget puzzle will finally start to move next week. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports that Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry intends to cut money for safety-net hospitals and other state services in order to free up money for TOPS scholarships that mainly benefit middle- and upper-income families.


About $183 million more would be needed to fully fund the program, which is highly popular, particularly among Louisiana’s middle class voters. The House Appropriations Committee will unveil its budget recommendations on Monday. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry says his committee intends to deepen proposed cuts across other state agencies, like the health department, to protect TOPS.


According to’s Jeremy Alford, Henry also suggested that the committee might not pass a budget that’s balanced for the entire upcoming fiscal year.


In terms of an overarching goal for the committee, Henry said members intend to pass a budget that funds the front-end of the next fiscal year with little doubt so that more time can pass to better judge how much revenue the state needs or doesn’t need.


That, of course, is unlikely to sit well with the Senate.


Mother’s Day wish
Many moms won’t be enjoying the big bouquet of flowers and brunch with the family on Sunday. That’s because they can’t afford the luxury or to take the time off from work. Writing for the Huffington Post’s Impact blog, Joanne Goldblum points out that 4 in 10 American families rely on mom as the sole breadwinner, women are over-represented in low wage jobs and earn 79 cents for every dollar their male counterparts do. Here’s her Mother’s Day wish for them:


It isn’t that poor moms and dads aren’t willing to work — it’s that the economy offers them so few opportunities to prosper from hard work and that safety net programs are inadequate to supplement low wages or provide for those who cannot work. Safety net programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families are available to fewer families as states put up more barriers to applicants. The purchasing power of these benefits has fallen more than 20 percent in the past decade. Until we remedy these problems, there will be unhappy Mother’s Days for too many families. While we do that important work, we should also be treating these mothers with the respect that they deserve. On Mother’s Day, I’d like recognize all the moms struggling to make ends meet:Thank you for going without lunch yourself most days so that you have the money to buy diapers.Thank you for all those evenings that you come home from work exhausted and then go straight to the kitchen to make dinner, because even the occasional take-out night is a luxury you can’t afford…Thank you for those Christmas mornings that you couldn’t spend with your family, because nursing home workers cannot have holidays off. There is so much that you do to make life better for your children. You are swimming against a tide of unfair policy that pushes you back. But you are still swimming. You’re amazing. You deserve roses, chocolates, breakfast in bed. Most of all, you deserve a fair chance to earn a living wage and real help when that’s not possible.


Teacher evaluations may change

The Senate Education Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would change the way public school teachers are evaluated. As Will Sentel of The Advocate reports, the bill is the result of negotiations of numerous stakeholder groups including teacher unions, superintendents, the Louisiana School Boards Association and advocates of major changes in public schools, including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Council for a Better Louisiana and Stand For Children. Senate bill 342, which is supported by the governor, now heads to the Senate floor.


Under current rules, 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation is based on classroom observations, and 50 percent is linked to the growth of student achievement. That review includes how students fared on key tests and results from a complex formula designed to show a teacher’s academic impact on students. The formula is called the Value Added Model . Under the bill, the Value Added Model would account for 35 percent of the evaluation, and other signs of student achievement would be 15 percent. Classroom observations of teacher performance by principals would still make up half the job review… “This is the agreed version after several, several meetings,” said Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, and sponsor of the bill. Critics of the current evaluations see the legislation as reducing the impact of what they call unreliable student achievement data in teacher ratings. Self-styled reformers said the change would ensure that 35 percent of teacher reviews are based on an objective measuring stick.


Lawsuit calls for prisoner release

Lawsuits have been filed on behalf of nine men and women who have been held in jail for months with no legal representation. Rebecca Santana of the Associated Press reports that the lawsuits are the latest result of the state’s public defender budget crisis.


“If Louisiana was a country and did this, the United States would report them to the United Nations human rights commission,” said Loyola University’s William Quigley, one of the lawyers who filed lawsuits on behalf of four defendants arrested in Winn Parish. “This is just a total breakdown of the system.” The Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center is working with the other five defendants who were arrested in LaSalle Parish. The center filed their lawsuit Thursday with the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal after a lower-court judge rejected an earlier request to release the five. “None of these defendants have seen or spoken to an attorney, and there has been no progress in their cases,” Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the center said in a news release. “They have no attorney to review evidence, file motions, prepare for trial or even to negotiate a plea.”…A judge in New Orleans in April ordered the release of seven jail inmates, including one charged with murder and another charged with rape, because their cases have stalled amid uncertain funding for their defense. Judge Arthur Hunter stayed his own ruling to allow for an appeal so the inmates are still in jail but Hunter said the lack of adequate defense and the languishing of the cases violate the Sixth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In western Louisiana thousands of people are on a wait list for a public defender because the office there has had so many layoffs.


Number of the Day

85 – The percent of criminal defendants in Louisiana who rely on public defenders. (Source: The Associated Press)