Slavery on the ballot

Slavery on the ballot

More than 150 years after the United States won the Civil War, the issue of slavery is back on the ballot in Louisiana and four other states as part of an effort to reshape prison labor. Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont will also decide whether their state constitutions should outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude. Stateline’s Marsha Mercer explains:

Advocates say the amendments are needed to strip antiquated language from state constitutions and to potentially transform the criminal justice system by making all work in prisons voluntary. … “This is the crown jewel of criminal justice reform,” said Curtis Ray Davis II, who served 25 years for second-degree murder in the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola and is campaigning for the amendment in Louisiana following his experiences in incarceration.

Katrina babies: children of climate change 
Monday marks 17 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana. For the people who experienced the catastrophic hurricane as children, the event became a tragically defining moment of their adolescence. That’s why filmmaker Edward Buckles, Jr., who was 13 when Hurricane Katrina upended his life in New Orleans, set out to capture how the storm marred the childhood experience of others in his city. The Associated Press’s Drew Costley reports on the experience and continued frustrations of those who came of age during one of the U.S.’s first climate-related disasters.

“I hope this is a local and American story that will motivate people to want to do better and care about human beings, and about how intrinsically linked we are with nature and that the future is clear: There is going to be more of this,” said Audrey Rosenberg, lead producer of the film. Buckles said that while Hurricane Katrina might has been a formative experience for him and the youth of New Orleans at the time, more waters have come through since. Though he isn’t a climate scientist, he knows firsthand the repeated damage wrought on his hometown by hurricanes and tropical storms made more intense by climate change. “My grandmother lost her home due to flooding from Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “She has been flooded seven more times just from tropical storms.”

A new recession threatens Black workers’ gains
Historically, Black workers are among the first people fired during a recession and first hired during a recovery. Thanks in part to federal relief from the American Rescue Plan, Black workers have fared better in the post-Covid economic downturn than in any post-recession period in U.S. history. But as the New York Times’s Talmon Joseph Smith and Ben Casselman explain, efforts by the Federal Reserve to fight inflation could erode or reverse these gains. 

[Duke University professor William Darity Jr.] argued that one solution would be policies that helped insulate workers from an economic downturn, like having the federal government guarantee a job to anyone who wants one. Some economists support less ambitious policies, such as expanded benefits to help people who lose jobs in a recession. But there is little prospect that Congress would adopt either approach, or come to the rescue again with large relief checks — especially given criticism from many Republicans, and some high-profile Democrats, that excessive aid in the pandemic contributed to inflation today. “The tragedy will be that our administration won’t be able to help the families or individuals that need it if another recession happens,” [Labor Economist Michelle] Holder said.

Busy day at BESE
Tuesday was a big day for Louisiana’s top education board. First, as The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports, members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted new standards for early learning despite opposition from top leaders such as Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley and board president Jim Garvey. The opposition stemmed from fears, which aren’t supported by facts, that the new standards’ emphasis on social and emotional learning—a framework for helping children manage their emotions and maintain positive relationships with others—might expose young Louisianans to information about the state’s history of systemic racism. 

Libbie Sonnier, who led a 25-member panel that crafted the benchmarks, said they were the product of a year’s work by highly qualified academicians as well as child care owners, parents and others. “These standards were strategic,” Sonnier told BESE. The new goals apply to how teachers, parents and others should expect youngsters up to age 5 to progress in early literacy, cognitive and physical development. Specific standards are spelled out for each age, and the changes would take the place of guidelines put in place in 2013.

The board also delayed action on new accountability standards aimed at toughening the requirement for schools to receive an A ranking, which have split the state’s education community. 

Number of the Day
-2.6 years – Change in life expectancy for Louisianans from 2019-2020. Louisiana’s decrease, from 75.7 years in 2019 to 73.1 years in 2020 was tied for the second-largest change in life expectancy among all states and Washington D.C. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via Axios