Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Houma Courier on a decline in ACT scores:
A decline in local students' scores on a major college-readiness test is hard to diagnose but distressing nonetheless.
If there is any good news, it's that the decline in Terrebonne and Lafourche students' average ACT scores was slight. From last year to this year, Terrebonne's average dropped from 19 to 18.5, results released last week show. In Lafourche, it went from 19.7 to 19.2.
The trend was similar for the state and national average. For Louisiana, it's another in a long-running list of measures in which the state brings up the rear when it comes to young people's academic achievements. Louisiana's average, 18.8, ranks 49th among states, down from 19.2 last year, when it ranked 45th.
The highest score a student can receive is 36. The national average this year is 20.8.
Terrebonne and Lafourche students, then, score better than the state and not far behind the national average. So the latest decline is no reason to panic.
But there is bad news too. These scores include both public and private students. Catholic schools comprise almost all of those students locally, and their average score, 23.5, is higher than both the state and national average.
It is the public schools, those that educate the vast majority of the community's young people, that trail the state and nation. And the overall scores for both parishes would be even lower if the private schools were not included.
Critics note that standardized tests are only one way -- some say an inferior one -- of measuring student progress. And in some ways they make a convincing case. But that should not be an excuse for anyone -- parents, teachers, principals, administrators or communities at large -- to accept mediocre or declining scores. While both local parishes are in the top third or higher among Louisiana school systems, they are doing so in a state that ranks almost dead last.
Some officials point out that Louisiana is among only 15 states that require all high school students to take the ACT. And most of those states core lower than states that only give the tests to college-bound students. But that, too, is too easily used as an excuse. Even among those 15 states, Louisiana ranks 13th.
Public school officials locally and statewide note that they are working to determine weak spots and address them with additional test preparation and other adjustments. And it's important that they succeed. ACT, the nonprofit that administers the test, offers recommendations that include specific teacher training, school policies and other approaches aimed at improving not just the scores but the knowledge and learning potential they seek to measure.
In a report accompanying the latest scores, the group notes that all students -- not just the college bound -- benefit from a challenging high school curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.
"Our findings once again indicate that taking core courses in high school dramatically increases a student's likelihood for success after graduation," ACT CEO Marten Roorda said in a prepared statement. "That's why we need to ensure that all students of all backgrounds have access to rigorous courses and that we are supporting them not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well."
And that means the way forward is not lowering standards, or teaching to the test. Instead, it's offering rigorous, challenging courses to every student and giving them the direction, tools and guidance they need to succeed.
The (Lake Charles) American Press on funding coastal restoration and protection projects:
Louisiana residents should be proud of how determined state and federal officials are in trying to secure more money to protect the already-damaged coastline.
Federal lawmakers who represent Louisiana are scrambling to get legislation approved that would provide Gulf Coast states with more dollars from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials have said it is needed to afford critical coastal restoration and protection projects.
There's good reason for the urgency: funding for the federal government is set to expire Nov. 21.
Chip Kline, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chairman, visited Washington, D.C., last week to lobby for the cause. Joining him were officials from local government and the private sector, all representing the Gulf Coast.
The issue lies with Louisiana and other Gulf states getting roughly 37.5% of funding from offshore drilling. At the same time, states that produce energy on land get 50% of the money earned.
Why is there a disparity in funding? Roughly 12.5% of the offshore production revenue goes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which benefits national parks and forests.
Meanwhile, revenue from energy production on land isn't skimmed off the top. Also, offshore oil and gas leases have generated more money than leases on land.
Kline has stressed that the Gulf Coast states must form a united front to get something done. Strength in numbers is important, especially when trying to get anything accomplished on the federal level.
The effort appears to be making some headway. Kline told The Advocate that congressmen now are "more sympathetic" on the issue than in past years.
It's time for Louisiana and other states along the Gulf of Mexico to be on equal footing when it comes to the amount of money received from oil and gas production. Congress needs to understand how important coastal protection is for the Gulf region.
The clock is ticking to get something done.
The Advocate on investing in early education:
If there's been one regular refrain on the campaign trail this season, it's been a call for more investment in early childhood education.
There's a good reason for that. Research shows that providing quality early education for at-risk children has major benefits — for the kids and their parents, for the economy, and for the future. Ninety percent of brain development happens between birth and age 4, yet 35 % of Louisiana kindergartners start school behind and many never catch up to their peers. Employers lose more than $800 million a year in absences and turnover due to lack of childcare. One eye-opening study found an annual return on investment once these kids reach adulthood is 13.7 %.
With such a compelling case, early childhood investment isn't the sort of issue that draws opposition. It's a question of whether politicians make it a priority when balanced against other demands. An impressively broad coalition is arguing this election season that leaders should.
It includes the sorts of players you'd expect, such as the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, the United Way and the progressive Louisiana Budget Project. It also includes business groups such as GNO, Inc., the Jefferson Business Council and the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. The cause has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans candidates alike. Earlier this year, the Legislature allotted about $19 million to create more capacity, the first such investment in years. Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to make further spending on early childhood programs a centerpiece of a second term, and his runoff opponent Eddie Rispone also backs improvements.
That near-unanimity is encouraging, and it underscores the fact that there are diverse arguments for investing, from social equity to economics. GNO, Inc. President Michael Hecht called it a case of "money and morality coming together."
The coalition pushing for more investment looks something like the broad group that successfully backed criminal justice reform in 2017. In some ways, early childhood education should be an easier sell than sentencing reform because the beneficiaries are more sympathetic to more people, and there's no risk that one bad apple could create a damaging narrative.
Yet expanding early childhood services will cost money -- $86 million annually to increase access from 22,000 spots to 177,000 in the next decade, the target recommended by the bipartisan Louisiana Early Childhood Care & Education Commission. That's less of a barrier now that the state is enjoying a surplus after years of shortfalls, but it will nevertheless require a certain level of will.
Still, a poll for the coalition found that 62% of likely voters back more funding for this important cause, and candidates up and down the ballot have pledged their support. We should all hold them to it after the votes are counted.