Undeterred by the lack of success of Louisiana’s private-school voucher program, “school choice” advocates are now pushing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) as their next solution. Similar to school vouchers, these programs transfer public dollars to private institutions. These accounts differ from vouchers in that parents are given much more discretion, as public dollars can cover other costs besides tuition. Janet Pope, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, in a letter to The Advocate, explains why ESAs are vouchers without accountability.

The ESAs being promoted are a voucher program 2.0, paying private school tuition, like a voucher, rather than merely assisting parents in saving for educational expenses. But ESAs do not have a financial eligibility component or require students to take the state accountability examinations, reasons for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto in 2022. …  A review of data from the Louisiana Department of Education reveals only 28 voucher schools received an SCI in 2022. None earned an A, one a B, three Cs, 11 Ds, and 13 Fs. So, 85.7% of voucher schools assigned a score earned a D or an F.

States getting crash course on gambling addiction
Americans are expected to wager a whopping $15.5 billion during March Madness this year. Residents in 36 states, including Louisiana, can do this legally by state law. While the legalization comes with increased revenues for state coffers, it also comes with the responsibility of providing resources to deal with the predictable spike in sports gambling addiction. Stateline’s Stephen Elliott explains how legalized sports betting has changed the demographics of gambling addiction and the speed in which it takes hold of people, and whether or not enough is being done to fight it. 

Jim Whelan, a psychology professor who runs the Institute for Gambling Education and Research and the University of Memphis Gambling Clinic backed by the state of Tennessee, said that in the past, gamblers seeking treatment for addiction at his clinic were older and almost evenly split by gender. Now, there’s been an influx of men ages 25 to 35. (Whelan) said spikes in problem gambling aren’t unprecedented, since they often happen when a new casino opens or a state adds a lottery game, “so I’m a little reluctant to say the sky is falling yet. We fear this is going to create some sort of addiction pandemic. We don’t know if it is or not.”

Online sports betting companies are partnering with colleges and universities to tap into their student population and large fan bases. In 2021, LSU sent an email to students, some of whom were under 21 and not legally allowed to gamble, to urge them to place bets with their new partner, Caesars. 

Pushback on Parents Bill of Rights
The U.S. House of Representatives is poised on Friday to pass a bill by Louisiana Rep. Julia Letlow that would give parents more power to influence public school curriculum. The “Parents Bill of Rights” is part of a larger parental rights culture war in education that started during the pandemic due to backlash to Covid-19 health measures, such as school closures and masking. It has recently transitioned to outrage over teaching children about race, racism, and gender and banning library books. The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak explains the ‘parental rights’ movement. 

The movement largely ignores the real problems of equity in education and the alarming, nationwide drop in math and reading competency across all ages. And where have these parents been in all this? Complicit. They’re weaponizing fear against the folks in the classrooms, who are already making not nearly enough to deal with very big problems — the consequences of poor parenting among them. They’re somehow everywhere and nowhere, busy revving up outrage online while simultaneously confused by what’s been withheld from them. Maybe a little less Facebook and a little more focus — you know — talking to teachers and asking about homework would’ve told them what kids were learning.

Negotiations begin on energy bill
Rep. Steve Scalise’s sweeping energy bill may be dead on arrival in the Senate in its current form, but there appears to be agreement that a bipartisan deal is possible. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains the details of the current proposal and possible changes. 

In a nutshell, H.R. 1 would mandate offshore lease sales; streamline permitting processes; incentivize building more infrastructure, such as pipelines; and roll back power of states to reject interstate energy transmission through their territories. It would also repeal higher fees in the Inflation Reduction Act and some of the law’s other climate change initiatives. The bill, authored by U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, also would increase state shares of the federal government’s royalties for offshore oil and gas production and wind farms.

As Ballard notes, the main issue that could broker a deal between Democrats and Republicans is transmission lines. Making it easier to build transmission lines to carry electricity generated from renewable energy sources will be crucial to transitioning away from fossil fuels. America could lose more than 80% of the potential emissions reductions from the Inflation Reduction Act if it doesn’t double the rate of building transmission lines, according to a study from Princeton University.  

“If we’re going to truly focus on emission reduction, I think there are a lot of things in this bill that that should transcend politics, and I think we could we could get to a broader agreement beyond permitting with Democrats,” Graves said. “Dems come to the table because they need it for their renewable energy, they need it for their transmission.” A bill filed Wednesday by two Democratic lawmakers further signaled a possible compromise on that point. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, seek to grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to oversee long-range, interregional transmission projects that now require intensive coordination between federal, state and local authorities and the public.

Number of the Day
3 – Number of Louisiana parishes that were in the top 5 for U.S. counties most at risk for natural disasters. East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes tied for second, while Jefferson Parish tied for fourth. (Forbes)