The unprecedented refusal by House Speaker Taylor Barras to update Louisiana’s official revenue forecast is a political ploy that could complicate — but probably not derail — efforts by Gov. John Bel Edwards to provide a $1,000, across-the-board pay raise for public school teachers through his executive budget. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports, the ongoing stalemate is not about whether teachers deserve a raise but about who can claim the credit.
In Baton Rouge, the stand-off, now entering its third month, is about keeping a Democratic governor from having enough money to increase pay for school teachers, some of his most ardent supporters, by setting up the scenario where he would have to raise taxes in an election year to cover the costs of that promise — Republican claims to the contrary. … Basically, without the adjustment, Edwards will have to cut spending and/or rearrange money for other services in order to fund the pay hike in the executive budget proposal for next year, which must be submitted in February and must balance spending with the amount of money the REC says is available. The Republican-majority Legislature convenes April 8, so if the REC recognizes the additional monies in March or April, then legislators, rather than the governor, can author the pay raises.
Disparities in enrichment
With all the focus on public school testing in recent years, far less attention has been paid to critical “enrichment” activities — art and music, physical education and foreign languages — than to the core subjects that the state uses to grade school performance. To help change this, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has said enrichment should account for 5 percent of a school’s performance score. The problem comes in how this should be measured. Assistant state Superintendent Jessica Baghian weighs in with an essay for the Fordham Institute.
Enrichment experiences … are not proportionally made available to all students at all schools. In Louisiana, for example, where I’m an assistant superintendent at the state education department, the average student in the district with the lowest enrichment enrollment is accessing 61 percent fewer enrichment courses than her counterpart in the district with the highest enrichment enrollment. There is a clear and growing national interest to change this by elevating the role of enrichment opportunities in K–12 education. Louisiana is one of at least eight states and the District of Columbia that proposed a measurement of enrichment experiences in their ESSA plans. But with each plan in various stages of development and implementation, the best approach remains unclear. Louisiana is now navigating this important but complicated process, and we are interested in partnering with others doing the same and, together, informing best practices for children across our nation.
The Dream of affordable housing
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is rightly remembered most for his pivotal role in America’s Civil Rights movement. But toward the end of his short life, King had shifted much of his attention to alleviating poverty and economic inequality — much of which is rooted in a chronic lack of affordable housing. As Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, details in a guest column on Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, King’s dream of housing affordability remains unfulfilled in the Crescent City, particularly for people of color.
Considering that half of all New Orleans households are already cost burdened, paying 30 percent or more of their income for housing — with many paying more than half of their income on housing — time is running out. It is the hardworking people and families that have called New Orleans home for many generations that are being priced out. African-Americans are largely responsible for the culture New Orleans sells to the world, but our neighborhoods are losing black people faster than any other group. Neighborhoods like Treme, Bywater, Mid-City and Freret have suffered dramatic drops in the black population, and many of these longtime residents are the teachers, hotel workers, musicians and culture bearers who make New Orleans one of the country’s most welcoming and unique cities.
Do wellness programs work?
Perhaps you missed it, but last summer congressional Republicans put forth a $100 billion health care package — much of it focused on expanding access to Health Savings Accounts and providing financial incentives for people to engage in healthy activities by doing things like making gym memberships tax-deductible. The package went nowhere. And as Austin Frakt and Gilbert Benavidez report in The New York Times, such wellness programs are mainly aimed at the wealthy, and don’t actually work.
Some people will benefit from active policies, but they’ll disproportionately be those who would have done what the policies encourage anyway. That’s a big part of why wellness programs — which provide financial incentives for healthy activities or preventive care — don’t work, as numerous studies have shown. Even without the programs, those people would have been likely to exercise, eat well and get preventive care. A wellness program tends to just throw another financial break at those who don’t need it. … So if active policies fail most of us, what works? The evidence suggests it’s passive policies. These are programs that don’t require individual action; you’re not expected to add another task to the to-do list. Examples include default enrollment in a 401(k); in the health realm, they are public health efforts like water fluoridation and air quality improvement. Other advanced nations tend to have universal health systems that are simpler, while in the United States, the many types of plans and premiums introduce complexity and increase the time necessary to enroll.
Number of the Day
10 – Percentage of Transportation Security Administration security screeners who called in sick over the holiday weekend, as the federal government shutdown enters its fifth week. The normal rate is 3.1 percent. (Source: The Associated Press)