The fact that poverty is a barrier to educational achievement is well-established, which is one reason Mississippi has often languished at the bottom of many national rankings. But recently the Magnolia State has made major strides in elementary school reading levels, to the point where fourth-graders in Mississippi now rank near the middle of the pack nationally. What changed? Emily Hanford, writing in The New York Times, says the state has invested heavily in teaching teachers about the science of reading, with an emphasis on phonics.
When children from higher-income homes struggle to read, their parents will often pay for tutoring or specialized private school. But children from poor families tend to have no backup if schools don’t teach them how to read words. And while children from poor families often enter school at a disadvantage when it comes to language comprehension, if they’re taught how to decode they’ve just been given their best shot at catching up because now they have the means to gain knowledge and expand their vocabulary through reading.
The truth about the petrochemical boom
One of the main ways that supporters of Louisiana’s generous industrial property-tax break program justify giving billions of state dollars to industry is that the program helps create a lot of temporary construction jobs in addition to the permanent manufacturing jobs that remain once factories are built. But in recent years many petrochemical corporations have begun doing much of that construction work overseas, leaving just the final assembly for Louisiana workers and reducing the effectiveness of the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). Sarah Sneath, reporting for ProPublica and Nola.com | The Advocate, explains:
With increasing automation, many chemical plants these days employ far fewer permanent workers than they used to. The number of large industrial plants in Louisiana grew by 17% between 1990 and 2017, in part due to a boom fueled by cheap natural gas, records show. But the number of chemical manufacturing jobs in the state decreased by 5% over the same period, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The process of building a plant likewise doesn’t create as many temporary local jobs as it once did, thanks in part to modular construction — or building large pieces of the project elsewhere and shipping them in.
Planning for the next recession
The American economy added a better-than-expected 266,000 jobs in November, temporarily allaying fears that the next recession is afoot. But what goes up must eventually come down, and economists still predict a downturn, beginning by mid-2021. When that day comes, Louisiana could be hit harder than most states, Mark Ballard reports for The Advocate:
Moody’s Analytics ran stress tests to see how well states would operate if the economy contracted. Louisiana doesn’t have enough savings to cover revenue losses accompanying a recession and could have to raise taxes or cut services, the report determined. … A first look will come later this week, probably on Thursday, when the Revenue Estimating Conference meets to establish how much money the state has available to spend for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
‘Life means life’ in Louisiana
The landmark criminal justice reforms legislators approved in 2017 have knocked Louisiana from its longtime perch as the most incarcerated place on the planet (we’re still second). But one thing hasn’t changed: Louisiana still has the highest percentage of inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. As The Advocate’s Lea Skene reports, that’s largely because of a 1979 state law that mandates automatic life-without-parole for people convicted of second-degree murder – a provision the state’s powerful district attorneys have fought to preserve.
Louisiana has more inmates serving life without parole than Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee combined: about 4,700 people behind bars with no chance at release. Those convicted of second-degree murder make up the largest subset — 51 percent of the total — compared to 19 percent for aggravated rape and 16 percent for first-degree murder, according to Department of Corrections data analyzed by researchers at Loyola University. More than half were under 25 when convicted and about 75 percent are black.
Number of the Day
$4.6 billion – Property tax revenue foregone by Calcasieu Parish from 1998-2018 through the Industrial Tax Exemption Program – about $230 million per year (Source: Nola.com | The Advocate)