The Louisiana House on Wednesday advanced House Bill 284, by Rep. Pat Smith, which would prohibit public schools from punishing students whose families have an unpaid meal debt. Louisiana would join many states in pushing to end what is known as “lunch shaming.” Opponents of the bill warned that schools could see an increase in unpaid debt. But supporters said children should not go hungry because of their parents’ shortcomings. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte:
Smith said she believes schools aren’t doing enough to collect lunch debts from parents, and she added a provision to the bill to let school boards work through the state’s debt recovery office to seek the money by offsetting against tax refunds and other mechanisms. “We’re not taking the parent off the hook,” she said. Rep. Nancy Landry, the Lafayette Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, urged passage of the proposal. She said schools shouldn’t “use children to collect your debt.” She doubted claims that the debt would skyrocket, saying fewer than 500 students were denied meals or given “alternative meals” last year because of back-owed lunch bills.
A recent policy brief by LBP Policy Director Jeanie Donovan illustrates how the practice of “lunch shaming” has impacted Louisiana’s children.
Unanimous jury amendment moves to the House
A constitutional amendment that would require jury verdicts to be unanimous advanced Wednesday in the state Senate. Louisiana is one of only two states that allow certain convictions to be made by 10 members of a 12-member jury. Sen. J.P. Morrell, in his closing, outlined the racial history of the current law by reading words of delegates from the 1898 convention that allowed nine of 12 jurors to convict. The 1973 convention moved that threshold up one to 10 and has been law since. John Simerman of the Advocate reports:
Morrell speculated that most 12-member jury trials would end up with the same outcome, but after more thorough, inclusive deliberations. He moved from patriotic entreaties on the importance of juror unanimity to the nation’s Founding Fathers to a recitation of flagrantly racist passages from the official journal of the 1898 state convention. Morrell also noted that Wednesday’s Senate vote arrived on the 50th anniversary of the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I think it’s most appropriate to have it during this day, when you look at the fact this is a legacy of post-Reconstruction,” he said. “The fact this happened before Dr. King and has lasted after Dr. King is truly sad.”
Tuition vs. state appropriations
Pew Trust’s Sophie Quinton outlines a troubling nationwide trend in higher education: funding for public colleges is shifting from state appropriations to students. This is a course Louisiana has been on for the last decade. A report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Associations highlights this national trend.
Tuition dollars are becoming a more important revenue source as more students head to college, tuition prices rise, and state lawmakers struggle to return higher education funding to the per-student levels seen before the Great Recession. The report looked at net tuition revenue, which it defined as tuition and fees minus medical student tuition, state and institutional financial aid and other waivers and discounts. It found that tuition dollars paid by families — a figure that includes federal grants and loans — made up 46 percent of funding for U.S. public colleges and universities in fiscal 2017, almost double tuition’s share of higher education funding in 1990.
Louisiana higher education leaders echoed these concerns at the House Appropriations Committee meeting on Tuesday. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte:
Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry suggested colleges were asking for too much as enrollment remains stagnant.”The ask from the universities always goes up: ‘We need more money.’ But the product you’re selling, people aren’t buying,” said Henry, a Metairie Republican.Rallo said tuition rates have increased to offset budget cuts, and he suggested the higher price tags for students have pushed some to attend schools in other states.
Sexual harassment bills move forward
The #MeToo movement has inspired a number of bills in the Legislature dealing with sexual harassment. The latest, passed by the Senate on Wednesday, would allow courts to throw out non-disclosure agreements if they prevent people from talking publicly about criminal conduct. It comes after the House last week approved a measure that requires more sexual assault training. Julia O’ Donoghue of Nola.com/Times Picayune has an overview:
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, successfully passed Senate Bill 233 that would allow a court to throw out a non-disclosure agreement if it prevented someone from talking publicly or sharing information about criminal activity. If passed, this new law would apply to future non-disclosure agreements as well as those that have already been signed. The law would change Aug. 1.
Number of the Day
$25,747, 218 – The recommended cut in state general funds to higher education in the governor’s Executive Budget (Source: House Fiscal Division)