More accountability for Louisiana schools

More accountability for Louisiana schools

Two decades after Louisiana adopted strict testing and accountability standards for its public schools, the state continues to languish at or near the bottom of many national rankings. Now state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley is proposing an overhaul of the system – the first since the late 1990s – with the aim of improving literacy in the earliest grades and closing the achievement gap between white students and students of color. The TImes-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Will Sentell has more: 

The rollout includes a wide range of possibilities, not a finished product ready for final action. But it also represents one of the first times Brumley has sought to put his imprint on school operations beyond the daily problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which was well underway when he started the job on June 8. The list of ideas includes a new focus on addressing literacy woes from kindergarten through second grade; ensuring students have mastered essential skills by the fourth grade and changing how children in grades 3-8 are tested and how often.


America desperately needs another stimulus bill
President-elect Joe Biden exhorted Congress to pass another economic relief bill as Covid-19 infection rates skyrocket across the country. While there was hope a deal could be reached during the lame-duck session of Congress, that has dwindled as silence from congressional leaders has replaced negotiations. The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Jeff Stein report on the urgency of a new bill, as emergency unemployment benefits, eviction moratoriums and student loan forbearance are set to expire for millions of Americans. 

“Refusal of Democrats, Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a conscious decision. It’s a choice that we make. If we can decide not to cooperate, we could decide to cooperate.” As he has before, Biden warned of a “dark winter” ahead as the pandemic continues to spread. “Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier,” Biden said. He suggested that the economic relief needs to be approved during the lame-duck session of Congress while Trump is still in the White House. “Now,” he said. “Not tomorrow. Now.”

Also set to expire are funding for state and local governments. The Lens’s Philip Kiefer explains how the federal failure to shore up municipal budgets is harming New Orleans’s pandemic response and cutting essential services.

The budget cuts come as the city anticipates a steep decline in revenue from sales tax due to business closures and the loss of tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, city officials say that recurring revenues — from taxes and fees — are down $150 million overall.  But the city has been able to fill most of that gap with $110 million in “one-time” funding from federal relief, property sales, and a large legal judgment. Officials said that they anticipate a comparable deficit in 2021. The proposed budget cuts overall spending by $16 million, but spending from the city’s general fund — which accounts for the bulk of departmental budgets — is cut by $92 million.


Mothers are America’s fallback plan
Despite evolving gender roles in many families, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a troubling, yet unsurprising reality: Mothers remain America’s fallback plan for child care. Mothers were much more likely to leave their job to take responsibility for additional, unexpected family caregiving needs during the pandemic, while men’s careers weren’t slowed nearly as much. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times’ Upshot blog explains how the pandemic – and the lack of policies like paid family leave –  have forced women back into this unequal role. 

Mothers are the fallback plan in the United States in part because of persistent beliefs that they are ultimately responsible for homemaking and child rearing, and because of the lack of policies to help parents manage the load. “Other countries have social safety nets; the U.S. has women,” Jessica Calarco, a sociologist at Indiana University, told the journalist Anne Helen Petersen in a recent interview for her newsletter, Culture Study.


New generation of public health workers
There may be one positive that comes out of the coronavirus pandemic – a surge of students in public health programs. This is welcome news for an industry where 42% of workers are older than 50 and nearly half plan to retire in the next five years. But much work will be needed to retain this younger workforce, as many in this vital field make so little that they qualify for public aid. The AP’s Michelle R. Smith and Kathy Young report

Public health programs in the United States have seen a surge in enrollment as the coronavirus has swept through the country, killing more than 247,000 people. As state and local public health departments struggle with unprecedented challenges – slashed budgets, surging demand, staff departures and even threats to workers’ safety – a new generation is entering the field. Among the more than 100 schools and public health programs that use the common application – a single admissions application form that students can send to multiple schools – there was a 20% increase in applications to master’s in public health programs for the current academic year, to nearly 40,000, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. 


Number of the Day
$47,460 – Per-capita personal income in Louisiana in 2019. Personal income growth in Louisiana slowed to 2.7% last year, from 5.2% the previous year. (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)