John White steps down

John White steps down

After eight years overseeing Louisiana’s public schools – the longest tenure of any state schools superintendent in the country – John White announced Wednesday that he is stepping down. White’s tenure was marked by conflicts with teachers’ unions, the implementation of new, more stringent standards for school achievement, and the wholesale changeover of public schools in New Orleans into independently operated charters. | The Advocate’s Will Sentell broke the story:

Despite notable gains in key areas in the past eight years, Louisiana remains near the bottom nationally in public school achievement. “If our state’s struggle to provide many of them (children) a quality education is in part a product of history and circumstance, it remains our responsibility as Louisianians to provide them homes, communities and schools that nurture their gifts in spite of history and circumstance,” White said in his email to BESE members. He said 2019 improvements in eighth-grade math on the nation’s report card were the biggest in the nation and that Louisiana finished in the Top 10 in the past decade for gains on all four subjects covered by the exam, called the National Assessment of Education Progress.

As the Lens’s Martha Jewson reports, on the same day that White announced his decision to move on, parents of children with special needs gathered outside Bricolage Academy, a public charter elementary school in New Orleans, to protest the school’s failure to provide adequate services for their kids.

New Orleans schools have been under a federal consent decree over special education services since 2015. The settlement stemmed from a 2010 lawsuit filed by 10 families that claimed in the city’s newly decentralized system, both direct-run and charter schools failed to properly enroll and provide services to students with disabilities. In a joint investigation with WDSU-TV last month, The Lens reported that parents like Chavez are experiencing problems similar to the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit. 


Dr. Gee’s legacy: a healthier state
In the last four years, Louisiana’s Medicaid expansion has extended health coverage to more than 450,000 working people earning low incomes, providing nearly 100,000 adults access to specialized outpatient mental health services. Overseeing this landmark policy change was Dr. Rebekah Gee, who is stepping down from her post at the top of Louisiana’s Department of Health as Gov. John Bel Edwards enters his second term. The Advocate’s editorial board reflects on her legacy.

Gee leaves for another job at the end of the month with national praise for her hep C initiative. But the beneficiaries of her tenure are less grand than those who dwell in national policy forums. They are in the households of poorly paid workers who have often had to live with pain because their income wouldn’t pay for a doctor, or who had to clog the emergency rooms to get care because there was no system to give them another place to go.


Feds turning a blind eye to housing discrimination
In 2015, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new rules aimed at reversing many decades of housing discrimination and racist housing policy. Those rules are particularly necessary in light of evidence that the status quo in federal housing policy may make residential segregation more rather than less prevalent. Now, however, President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing to weaken those regulations, allowing local authorities to go back to sweeping discrimination under the rug. Peggy Bailey of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the harm of the administration’s proposed rule:

The proposed rule would reinstate the lax HUD oversight that GAO criticized in its 2010 report and the 2015 rule tried to address. Without proper oversight, communities would likely continue building affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods of color, thereby furthering segregation. If HUD does not intervene proactively, once that housing is built, it will be there to stay. By contrast, if HUD acts proactively, it can provide a counterweight to policymakers and local residents seeking to exclude low-income households from communities with lower poverty and better schools and job opportunities.


Louisiana says yes to more toxic emissions in cancer alley
After months of public debate and over heated protest from St. James Parish residents the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has approved permits that will allow Formosa Plastics to start construction on a massive new chemical plant. As The Guardian’s Oliver Laughland explains, the plant may provide new jobs, but is also poised to spew tens of thousands of pounds of carcinogens per year over neighboring communities in an area known as cancer alley for its elevated rates of the disease.

Activists say the plant could release 13m tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants, and would emit thousands of tonnes of other dangerous pollutants, including up to 15,400 pounds of the cancer causing chemical ethylene oxide. (…) “The state of Louisiana is wholly unprepared to provide proper oversight of this monster,” said Anne Rolfes, the founding executive director of the environmental organization Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “This approval signals that our state government is willing to sacrifice our health, our clean air and water to cheap plastics. The good news is that we, the people, do not accept this decision. The fight has just begun.”


Number of the Day
1.5 million – Minimum number of American student loan borrowers still carrying debt from loans issued before the year 2000. (Source: Urban Institute)