The disruptions caused by Covid-19 led to a sharp decline in student test scores in Louisiana. Now, educators are calling to end school letter grades, which are used to show the public how schools are performing. The Advocate’s Will Sentell explains why education leaders think public school students should be given the same leeway that others have been given to cope with the damaging effects of a global pandemic.
Janet Pope, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said Louisiana is one of just six states that has not sought an accountability waiver from the federal government. “We are not putting letter grades on hospitals when they lose patients,” Pope said. “We are not putting letter grades on courts because they are not having court sessions.” “Do we really want to put a letter grade on this?” she said of public schools. Cynthia Posey, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, noted that schools were open here during the 2020-21 academic year when they remained closed in many states. “Is it really fair to grade students and penalize them when they faced unprecedented challenges?” Posey asked.
As Louisiana remains the epicenter of the fourth Covid wave and vaccinations remain unavailable for children under 12, some parents are considering virtual school. But as The Advocate’s Charles Lussier reports, the state’s second-largest school district seems unprepared.
But, with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system set to bring back students on Wednesday, [Jenn] Oster remains hesitant about the district’s virtual alternative: the EBR Virtual Academy. “Right now, no one is on the same page and answers vary depending on who you speak with,” Oster said. “It’s concerning to agree to a plan that is so unorganized when you’re talking about your child’s education. If this is a sign of how smoothly this will go, I’m not sold.”
Bipartisan infrastructure bill nearing final passage
It’s been a busy couple of days on Capitol Hill as senators try to wrap up their work on a pair of budget bills before the annual August recess. On Monday, Democrats announced the framework for a $3.5 trillion American Families Plan, which would make historic new investments in families and communities. This morning, the Senate is expected to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would pay for long-overdue upgrades and repairs to roads, bridges and other infrastructure around the country. The AP’s Lisa Mascaro reports on the bipartisan deal that many thought was impossible.
Together, a sizable number of business, farm and labor groups back the package, which proposes nearly $550 billion in new spending on what are typically mainstays of federal spending — roads, bridges, broadband internet, water pipes and other public works systems that cities and states often cannot afford on their own. “This has been a different sort of process,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator of the group of 10 senators who drafted the package. Portman, a White House budget director for George W. Bush, said the investments being made have been talked about for years, yet never seem to get done. He said, “We’ll be getting it right for the American people.”
Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy has been a lead negotiator for the infrastructure bill and laid out his support in a weekend guest column in the Advocate.
This is good legislation that solves pressing issues in our state. It has $6 billion for Louisiana to rebuild and improve our roads and highways. It has $40 billion to rebuild bridges nationwide. With 12% of our bridges in poor or worse condition, Louisiana stands to get our fair share. Another $2.5 billion will go to coastal storm risk management and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects specifically for states like Louisiana. It provides billions in funding for communities to expand their drainage systems and implement other mitigation projects to prevent homes from flooding. Louisiana will receive at least $100 million to expand internet access to rural and low-income communities. This will bring investment, business, and job opportunities to strengthen local economies.
Ethics board failed to collect millions in late fees
The agency responsible for enforcing laws to create public confidence in state government has not collected millions of dollars in late fees, according to a recent report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. As of March 18, the Louisiana Board of Ethics reported 2,100 late fees totalling $2.7 million. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Rachel Mipro reports on what has become an ongoing problem.
Auditors first addressed the issue in a 2019 procedural report, stating that the ethics board had a weakness for missing deadlines for delinquent debt transfers. The ethics board is supposed to turn debt over to the attorney general after 60 days, but has failed to do so in many cases. In an analysis of 30 late fees from 2019 to 2021, auditors found that 60 percent of these late fees weren’t sent to the attorney general because the ethics board never sent a demand letter for collection to the debtor. In 20 percent of these cases, the demand letter was sent late to the debtor, preventing the debt from being confirmed as delinquent.
$15 per hour could be post-pandemic norm
The U.S. labor market hit a historic milestone as the economy reopened and companies struggled to attract workers with pre-pandemic wages: Average pay for supermarket and restaurant workers topped $15 per hour. The good news is that this increase is likely to be permanent. But as the Washington Post’s Andrew Van Dam and Heather Long explain, this new milestone doesn’t mean that Congress or states don’t need to take the important step to raise the minimum wage.
Economists caution that a higher average wage is not the same as a $15 minimum wage. Half of workers in these industries are still making below $15 an hour. Nonetheless, rising pay is still a game-changer for millions of workers. “It wouldn’t be fair to call $15 an hour the new minimum, but I think it’s a guiding star wage. It’s a baseline wage that folks compare offers to,” said Nick Bunker, the economic research director at Indeed Hiring Lab.
Louisiana remains one of only five states without a minimum wage law on its books.
Number of the Day
$6 billion – Amount of funding that Louisiana would receive to rebuild and improve roads and highways under the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. (Source: The Advocate)