Louisiana editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The American Press on state government control over local governments:
Much has been written about Louisiana state government having too much control over local government operations, but that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The issue surfaced during the current legislative session when bills were filed designed to reduce local control over industrial property tax exemptions.
Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2016 gave local government agencies a voice in deciding which manufacturers gets those exemptions. Business interests aren’t happy about the change, insisting it hampers economic development.
Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, is sponsoring one bill trying to curb local input, but it isn’t doing well. Senate Bill 214 is on the subject to call list in the Senate, but it may not surface before the session ends.
White said earlier this month, “We’re taking the local money, that’s an incentive to try to get a company to come, a manufacturer to come to your area to create jobs, to create wealth, to give you folks jobs. Why can’t the locals help?”
Then White listed state services state taxpayers provide to local governments. There is the $3.8 billion Minimum Foundation Program that funds K-12 public education, $101 million planned this year for teacher pay increases, another $100 million for state supplemental pay to local law enforcement and fire personnel and millions of dollars spent on local construction projects.
“We’re like Santa Claus to the locals,” White said.
More local help is also in the works. Interest from unclaimed property funds held by the state treasury could be used to finance local projects if the legislation is approved at the current session. Another effort is also under way to help local businesses improve their ability to borrow essential funds.
Some legislators over the years have tried to improve the ability of local governments to raise more of their own funds, but little has changed. The Advocate said with limited sales and property tax collections, small town Louisiana has to look at things like speeding tickets to balance local budgets.
With anti-tax sentiment so strong in the state, it isn’t likely many local governments want to wean themselves off state support. Government agencies in central and northeast Louisiana are already having trouble raising essential operating funds.
None of these are new issues. These problems have been around for a long time, and there don’t appear to be any easy or quick solutions.
The Advocate of Baton Rouge on public education progress:
Inside the State Capitol on Wednesday, observers and participants in the legislative circus might have been wondering if anything positive was being accomplished for Louisiana.
On the same day, on the steps outside, Louisiana’s superintendent of education and other officials were pointing out the real and brighter future that is possible when a new generation of Louisiana students get a better start in college and careers.
The signature achievement, after years of trying, was that public high schools graduated more than 80% of students over four years.
But if the graduation rate is still not what we want it to be — the national average was almost 85% last year — the progress over the last decade represents a sea change for Louisiana, according to Education Superintendent John White.
“The positive results announced today reflect many years of relentless focus in our schools, and more progress is on the horizon,” White said.
The announcement drew bipartisan praise, including from retired Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, who authored a 2009 bill mandating that the state reach higher than its former and dismal rate, then about two-thirds of students.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Nevers said in a telephone interview with The Advocate. “That is a huge accomplishment.”
It is, but we think there are a lot of reasons to look beyond that number, even as teachers and students should be focused on meeting or exceeding the national average in future years.
Teachers and students do the work. Schools perform better, though, because Louisiana has had strong leadership in education focused on accountability and giving pathways to education after high school.
“It is not enough in today’s world to simply earn a high school diploma,” White said.
He is exactly right, and in the thicket of education statistics, we think this stands out: Officials said students earning a college or career credential rose from 47.5% percent last year to 50.4% in 2018.
“There are a lot of people behind those percentages,” said Holly Boffy, a member of the state education board who lives in Youngsville.
There are: White’s leadership and bipartisan support from the governor’s office and the state education board — and never forgetting superintendents and principals in the trenches — have made that possible. It takes time, money and sound policy.
But the brighter future for Louisiana is what students have made of their chances. Every young person who steps up by taking a tougher course that can lead to college credit, or earns a certification in a technical career, has a much stronger start in career and life.
We’re a long way from where we want to be in public education. But Wednesday’s announcement should be celebrated as showing how to raise our sights.
The Courier on studying Louisiana’s marshes:
There is important and far-reaching research being conducted right here in south Louisiana.
The work focuses on the marshes that suffered varying degrees of damage from the 2010 BP oil spill. And researchers, including biology professor Sean Graham at Nicholls State University, are watching closely as the area continues to recover from the devastating impacts of the spill.
What they are finding, while troubling, is fascinating in itself. But it is even more exciting to think about the effects it could have on future recoveries.
“The heavily oiled sites still haven’t recovered above ground or below ground, and that is as of November of 2018,” Graham said recently.
Although the spill began more than nine years ago, the areas that saw the most oil are still struggling to return to health. That is a sobering thought. We tend to imagine our resilient natural resources with their own healing processes. And while there is a measure of truth to that, those processes take time. In this case, they will likely take more than a decade.
Perhaps the worst news is that the soil that was heavily oiled continues to have difficulty getting enough carbon from the atmosphere, and that inability is making it more susceptible to the erosion that is threatening our entire coast.
But there is also some promising news. First, the fact that so many bright minds are hard at work studying these problems and focusing on how best to help is comforting. Second, some of their findings are giving them hints as to how future cleanups can be helped along.
The entire project is testament to the fact that long-term, continuous study was and is still needed to allow experts to monitor, measure and catalog the years or decades it will take for our hard-hit coast to return to its former health - if that ever occurs.
These are not simply academic exercises, though they certainly have their roots in academia and investigative thought. They have and will continue to have real-world applications that could pay dividends for generations to come.
Graham and his fellow researchers are leading the way in a field that has not yet seen adequate study. As the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative reaches the end of its planned funding, which runs out at the end of 2019, it is clearly essential that the work continue.
In an ideal world, their findings will never again be needed to guide a widespread cleanup effort like what took place after the 2010 spill. But in an ideal world, the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion and the catastrophic spill it began would never have taken place. This is important work that should continue.