Louisiana’s university leaders would have new authority to set tuition rates if voters give their approval in November under a constitutional amendment that cleared its final major hurdle Thursday. If voters approve the change, it would likely signal the end of an era for public colleges and universities. Once supported mostly by tax dollars, they are increasingly reliant on ever-growing tuition and fees as budget cuts have taken a massive toll. As Rebekah Allen of The Advocate reports,
For years, higher education officials have called for autonomy, noting that the Legislature is in control of both their main sources of funding: state dollars and tuition and fees. After the Thursday vote, Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo applauded the move. “Louisiana higher education is now poised to act in the best interest of our students when setting tuition, allowing market forces to drive the best decisions,” Rallo said in a statement. “This is a huge feat for our institutions, as the passage of this bill provides our systems with greater financial flexibility, the ability to better plan and the opportunity to be more responsive to the constituents which they serve.”
Medicaid expansion promises ‘better quality of life’
From virtually the moment former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to take advantage of federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage in Louisiana, the Nola.com/Times-Picayune editorial board has been steadfast in its support of coverage and its many benefits. So it’s no surprise that they were encouraged by the state’s efforts to start enrolling low-income adults in coverage plans that take effect July 1.
The state predicts it will save $184 million on health care in the first year alone. The federal government is paying 100 percent of the cost of the expansion through 2016 and the vast majority in future years. There will be countless ripple effects as families stop having to worry about how to pay for health care. Ultimately, thousands of residents should be physically and financially healthier. And communities across Louisiana, especially ours, will benefit. DHH’s goal is to get more than half of the 375,000 residents signed up by July 1, when coverage starts. That is an ambitious goal, but the food stamp waiver will help. Ruth Kennedy, who is leading DHH’s expansion, said the department has prepared for months for this moment. “I am confident, and I am ready, and this is not my first rodeo,” she said.
The rent is too high
New research from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition finds Louisiana around the middle of the pack nationally for housing affordability. But that’s still not good news for low-income renters looking for an affordable apartment, as the average fair-market price for a two-bedroom apartment is $822 – which requires a full-time job paying $15.81 per hour to be affordable. As The Advocate’s Tim Boone reports,
In New Orleans, which has the highest fair market rent at $963 a month, workers need an annual income of $38,520 to afford a two-bedroom apartment or 2.6 full-time minimum wage jobs. New Orleans renters need to make an average of $18.52 an hour to afford the apartment and not spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. Lafayette was the second-most expensive metro area, with residents needing an average hourly wage of $16.87 to afford an $877-a-month apartment. Houma-Thibodaux was third, with an average hourly wage of $16.48 for an $857-a-month apartment, followed by Baton Rouge at $16.19 an hour for an $842 two-bedroom unit and Shreveport-Bossier at $15.75 an hour for an $819 apartment.
A new model for school accountability?
For most of the last two decades, the focus of education reform has been on high-stakes testing of students to evaluate whether teachers and schools are doing a good job. But as Duke University’s Helen F. Ladd blogs for the Brookings Institution, there are severe limitations to this approach. She advocates trying an “inspection and review” system that’s been used successfully in countries such as New Zealand and England.
Research has shown that the narrow focus (on testing) has led to many unintended and negative consequences. It has narrowed the curriculum, induced schools and teachers to focus on what is being tested, led to teaching to the test, induced schools to manipulate the testing pool, and in some well-publicized cases induced some school teachers and administrators to cheat. Moreover, test-based accountability is unfair to disadvantaged students and schools. Research from the U.S. and other countries is very clear: students from disadvantaged families achieve on average at lower levels than their more advantaged counterparts. That means that schools serving concentrations of low-income students face far great challenges than those serving middle class students.
How does ‘inspection and review’ work?
Such systems use professional inspectors to make periodic visits to schools – and ideally also to districts. The inspectors review school documents, talk to school leaders and teachers, and may also survey parents. They use a standard protocol to evaluate the quality of the policies and practices at each school, and to report on student outcomes. Their written reports are publicly available. … The individual school reports provide useful information to schools, policymakers, and also parents by highlighting both the strengths and the weaknesses of the school, with particular attention to how well the school is addressing the needs of the students it serves. In addition, the inspection office can use information from the individual reports to disseminate information on best practices.
Number of the Day
$93.7 million – Reduction in state general fund (SGF) support for higher education contemplated in next year’s state budget. (Source: Legislative Fiscal Office)