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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

We are constantly encouraged to participate in our government.

Our civics teachers in high school drummed into our heads that we should get involved.

Write your representative or senators, we are told, because it’s the best way to make your thoughts known.

Our U.S. representatives and senators even have web pages on which we may contact them about a particular issue.

Do you really want to know just how effective it is to contact your representative or senator?

Do you truly believe a warm-blooded human actually reads your letter?

Are you interested in learning how difficult it is to get your message heard over the hum of the campaign money-counting machines in your congressperson’s office?

If your answer to the last three questions is yes, read on.

I recently went onto Rep. Garret Graves’s web page and clicked on the “Contact” link and sent him an email, the basis of which dealt with the 2016 flood.

I explained that like thousands of other victims, when seeking flood relief, I was directed by FEMA to the Small Business Administration table where I was given an application form for an SBA loan to repair damage to my home which took in 33 inches of water.

No one at FEMA or SBA bothered to explain that applying for a loan made me ineligible for a FEMA grant or even if I was offered a loan and refused it, the fact that it was offered automatically made me ineligible for a FEMA grant.

Read that again: even if I turned the loan offer down, I would be considered ineligible for a grant by virtue of the fact that a loan was offered.

I explained to Rep. Graves that my home was paid for at the time of the flood and that I did not carry flood insurance because we were in one of the highest-elevated parts of Denham Springs that had never even come close to flooding.

I also informed Rep. Graves that like hundreds, perhaps thousands of other victims, I was 76 years old, retired, and would never live to see my now brand-new $124,000 mortgage paid off.

I asked him to look into the possibility of loan forgiveness for the flood victims as had been done for other disaster victims and which was being considered [and subsequently approved] for potential recipients of SBA loans as part of the then-proposed $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

Here is the response I received from his office:

 

Thanks for taking the time to reach out to me about COVID-19. As we work to keep Louisianans safe and to minimize the economic damages associated with America’s response to this uniquely challenging threat, let’s keep this fact in mind: In Louisiana, we’ve seen our share of hurricanes, floods, and other disasters; people here know how to be resilient and pull through hard circumstances like this, and I’m confident that we are going to come out on the other side strong.

As you know, the United States is responding to a global outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by a new type of coronavirus, called COVID-19. Unfortunately, cases of COVID-19 and instances of community spread of the virus are being reported in a growing number of states. Following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the President of the United States declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency.

Congress – and the entire federal government – is acting quickly to help Americans impacted by the coronavirus. We are working to provide regulatory relief, economic support, and innovations in our private industries to combat this threat. So far, the House and Senate have passed two major pieces of support legislation:

  • On March 4, we authorized $8 billion in emergency funding for health research into COVID-19 to develop high-quality diagnostic kits, more effective treatment plans, and a vaccine to prevent the further spread of the disease.
  • On March 18, President Trump signed a second piece of legislation called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This package was focused on individuals and families and ensures accessible testing, emergency paid leave, and support and flexibility for small businesses. You can read more about this bill here.

Our next step in the Congress is to pass legislation to deliver further assistance for our economy, including financial relief for those businesses and industries that are being hit the hardest by disruptions related to the pandemic response. As this bill comes together, my focus is on making sure the needs of South Louisiana’s families, individuals, and businesses are addressed.

This is a fast-evolving crisis, and things continue to change as new information becomes available every day. Please visit the coronavirus page on my website, where we are posting a running list of information, resources, and useful links to help you navigate this challenge. Additionally, please feel free to call our office or the Louisiana statewide call network (211) if you have additional questions or concerns. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me with your thoughts and hope you’ll stay in contact as this issue progresses.

Sincerely,

Garret Graves
Member of Congress

 

So, there you have it. If you have an issue that’s dear to your heart, just write your congressperson. [S]he’s there to help.

 

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You’d think Gov. John Bel Edwards would be a little better at reading the tea leaves.

After all, it was Louisiana’s teachers who first pushed him over the top to win the governor’s election over David Vitter in 2015.

And the teachers again provided needed support when he was challenged by businessman Eddie Rispone who had the backing of would-be kingmaker Lane Grigsby.

So, how did Edwards reward teachers for their support?

A raise of $1,000 per year in 2019. That’s $83 per month before taxes—and that was nearly four years into his first term before he got around to doing that much.

Yes, I know a lot of workers in Louisiana didn’t get raises of $83 per month but before jumping in with that argument, consider what teachers are expected to do (other than teach in a classroom) and how their salaries stack up with other states.

Last April, the NEA released FIGURES that showed Louisiana’s teachers (before that $1,000-per-year boost) still ranked 13th lowest in the nation.

And those same figures showed that the national average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, had actually decreased 4.5 percent over the previous decade. Teachers were paid 21.4 percent less than similarly-education and experienced professionals, the NEA study revealed.

The national average teacher salary increased from $59,539 for the 2016-17 school year to $60,477 for 2017-18,

The average pay for teachers in Louisiana was $50,256.

So, what did Edwards to this year to try and bring teacher into alignment with other states when he submitted his proposed budget for next year?

Crickets chirping. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip.

And his wife was a teacher before he was elected governor. His daughter is a school counselor.

As might be expected, teachers took umbrage at the governor’s slight—as well they should have.

An acquaintance offered a defense of sorts for the governor’s omission. “The Republican legislature wouldn’t approve another teacher pay raise anyway, so he just didn’t brother.”

My response to that is, “So what? Put it in the budget and put the onus on the legislators. Let them explain why Louisiana cannot support its teachers. There are, by the way, part-time legislators who pull down more than starting teachers in this state.

Gov. Edwards did finally reverse himself, but only after teachers bristled publicly. But you’d never know he truly felt their wrath when he offered up a $500 per year raise. That’s $42 per month, a little more than a dollar a day. You can’t even go to McDonald’s with that.

If Edwards is considering a run at John Kennedy’s Senate seat, he’d do well to remember the teachers.

And don’t give me that worn-out B.S. about teachers only working nine months a year. That’s pure bunk. No sooner than the school year is over than teachers must turn their attention to the coming year by preparing lesson plans, cleaning out classrooms, re-stocking supplies and attending meetings.

Teachers endure problems we can only imagine in our jobs. As a news reporter, I would get irate calls from subjects of my stories but try sitting across the desk from an arrogant parent who won’t accept the explanation that their kid, who never received discipline or help with his homework at home, is disruptive, a problem student and deserved that poor grade or suspension.

Teachers must watch for signs their students are abused at home. Ever had to do that in your job? Ever had to look at a bruised child and asked him or her to tell you what happened? It’s a pretty depressing responsibility and can leave teachers sickened with nightmares.

Sometimes teachers are called on to stop a bullet to save a child—and they do it, Alex Jones’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Test papers are taken home by teachers who, while the rest of the family is watching American Idol, must plod through 25 or 30 test papers for grading. They sacrifice time with their own families so they can devote time to their jobs.

Teachers dip into their own pocketbooks to purchase materials for their classrooms. And believe me, that isn’t cheap. I knew a teacher in Lincoln Parish who bought shoes for a child who had none.

They are saddled with tons of paperwork other than test grading and they are burdened with bureaucratic requirements in preparation for standardized testing and if the kids don’t do well, it’s the teacher who bears the brunt of evaluations by politicians who decide who is and who isn’t a good teacher—without ever meeting the teacher or sitting in her classroom.

Teachers must step in to stop fights and God help her if she’s a little too physical with the kids. Might as well go ahead and retain legal counsel.

And sometimes a teacher spots potential in a kid no one else has seen. They take the student under their wing, nurture his/her talents, and develop a kid everyone thought had no future into a productive citizen. On that point, I speak from experience. Thank you, Mrs. Garrett, Miss Lewis, Miss Hinton, Mr. Peoples and Mr. Ryland. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Teachers deserve better, Gov. Edwards. As a friend suggested, “Go big or go home.”

You gave state police enormous pay raises. You gave your cabinet members substantial increases.

Teachers, cafeteria workers and other school employees deserve nothing less than the same consideration you’ve given state troopers and cabinet members.

You’re beginning to look a lot like Bobby Jindal.

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If you’re 65 or over and live in Louisiana, get out now.

If you’re not yet 65 and live in Louisiana, get out before you reach that age.

According to 24/7 Wall Street, that online service that does surveys on government, consumerism and just about anything else, Louisiana is the 4th worst state in which older Americans can reside.

Worse even than Alabama (though barely: it was 5th worst), but better than West Virginia (the worst), Arkansas (a surprise at 2nd worst) and of course, Mississippi (3rd worst).

We already know that lousy political support makes Louisiana a horrible state for teachers of all ages, so, what, exactly, makes Louisiana such a poor choice for older Americans?

Well, for openers, try these statistics on for size:

Our life expectancy at age 65 of 83.1 years is tied for 8th lowest. West Virginia is lowest at 82.5 years.

We’re 8th highest with 38 percent of our population aged 65 and older with a disability (welcome to my world).

Our poverty rate of 12.4 percent for those 65 and older is tied with Mississippi for 2nd highest in the nation (New Mexico is highest at 13.3 percent).

The $36,345 median income for 65 and older households is 2nd lowest (West Virginia was lowest at $36,147 while Mississippi and Arkansas have the 3rd and 4th lowest median incomes for older households, respectively).

Louisiana has the 10th lowest population aged 65 and older at 720,610 which could mean that our older citizens, like my good friend and Ruston High School classmate John Sachs, took the hint and left the state (though John’s choice of Arkansas is somewhat questionable in retrospect).

In case you’re wondering, the national median income of retirement-age households is $44,992, more than $8,600 higher than Louisiana.

As an added incentive for us old folks to git while the gittin’s good, Louisiana crime rate—both property and violent crime—ranks among the highest in the country. (With our open carry laws and our obsession with guns to protect ourselves, you’d think that figure would be a little lower. Just sayin’.)

But even though I flooded in 2016 and subsequently was screwed by FEMA and the Restore Louisiana program, I was born in this state, my children and grandchildren live here, and while I abhor Baton Rouge traffic, I love Louisiana’s people, our culture, our food and our music.

I’m stayin’.

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Some weeks ago, I stopped counting political brochures arriving in my mailbox by sheer numbers, choosing instead to measure them by the pound.

Republic Services has probably had to put another truck or two into service just to cart away the political mail-outs cluttering the mailboxes on my street alone. They’re too slick to use for the bottoms of bird cages, so they serve no real purpose other than to attest to the fact we are needlessly killing far too many trees.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually offered anything new but, to paraphrase a line uttered by Frasier on the sitcom Cheers, they’re redundant, they repeat themselves, they say the same things over and over—and still they don’t tell us a thing about the candidate except perhaps in the case of one Edith Carlin, who insists she’s the male version of Donald Trump, a rather dubious self-accolade, if there ever was one.

Carlin describes herself in her fliers as “an outsider like President Trump.” (And yes, she does underscore the word outsider.) She goes on to say, “Just like President Trump, Edith Carlin is a self-made person…”

Really? Did she begin drawing millions from her father while still a child? Did her father purchase her way into the Wharton School of Business? Did she hire undocumented workers, not pay them, and default on billions of dollars of loans from banks into order to become “self-made”? Did she become “self-made” by declaring bankruptcy half-a-dozen times? Is she “self-made” from cheating thousands of students in a fraudulent “university” that was under investigation until making a big campaign contribution to the attorney general who was investigating the school? Is that what she means by “self-made”?

She should be so proud.

She says she “will hold the government accountable in a way politicians can’t.” Really? How does she plan to do that? That promise has been made thousands upon thousands of times by thousands upon thousands of candidates but nothing seems to change. But she’s different, I suppose. She’s proposing to waltz into a 39-member body and single-handedly convince her fellow senators and 105 House members that they’ve been wrong all along and they will obligingly repent of their evil ways.

That’s about as absurd as every four years, the candidates for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish vow to make public education better when in reality, the mayor’s office has zero to do with the school board. Zero.

Well, one of the things Carlin says she’ll do is “fix I-12 issues without raising the gas tax.” Well, Ms. Carlin, it would be most interesting to hear just how you plan to go about doing that.

“After billions of dollars in tax increases,” she says, “the government now admits taking too much from us.” I suppose she’s referring to the $300 million – $500 million surplus of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration. But personally, I much prefer a surplus of $500 million to the eight years of $1 billion deficits of the best-forgotten Jindal administration.

She is running against State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, a fellow Republican, who is term-limited and who is running for the seat of former State Sen. Dale Erdy, also term-limited. Pope is a former Livingston Parish school superintendent who brought our school system up to among the best in the state. Pope’s big sin is he doesn’t always vote the party line, choosing instead to vote his conscience, an attribute many claim as their voting philosophy but which few can back up. But when you cross party lines, you cross the party and the party is the party is the party and the party doesn’t forget.

Carlin claims politicians “haven’t fixed our drainage problems,” that “80 percent of our district flooded.” True. I flooded, as did thousands of others. And of course, Carlin’s hero, Trump, dragged his feet in getting the requirements for assistance approved by HUD. It’s been three years and many still have received nothing from FEMA. As for fixing our drainage problems, she says we need an engineer to fix those problems. She is an engineer.

But guess what? Rogers Pope was an educator. Do you think they assigned him to the House Education Committee? Nope. That would make far too much sense. They tucked him away where he wouldn’t be a nuisance to Jindal and John White. Does Carlin think she’ll fare any better? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, she says she’ll work to improve drainage problems but she’s against taxes. It’s going to be interesting to see her just snap her fingers and make our problems vanish.

But to really understand the candidate Carlin, it’s always best to follow the money to see who is the power behind the politician (and she is now officially a politician, her denials notwithstanding).

So, I went onto the campaign finance records to see who her backers are.

The results were eye-opening, to say the least.

To narrow the field, I looked only at contributions of $500 or more. I found 65 contributions totaling $68,500 since January 1, 2019, including a couple of multiple contributions by the same donor, namely Republican power broker Lane Grigsby, who also backed Jindal and who is backing Eddie Rispone for governor.

I also noted a $2,500 contribution from Koch Industries.

But the real story is that of those 65 contributions, is that exactly 11 were from Livingston Parish while 32 were from East Baton Rouge Parish, 14 from other parts of the state and eight were from out of state. That’s 11 from Livingston and 54 from elsewhere.

Those 11 Livingston Parish contributors (actually, only 10 because one person contributed on two different occasions) accounted for $14,500 (including $4,500 from just three persons) while the 32 East Baton Rouge Parish donors ponied up $37,500. The 14 from other areas of the state gave $17,500 and out-of-state contributors chipped in $13,500.

So, Livingston Parish contributors gave just 21 percent of Carlin’s total while backers in Baton Rouge put up 54.7 percent of her total.

Livingston Parish voters may wish to ask themselves why so many people in Baton Rouge are involving themselves in a race in Livingston Parish. Well, let’s see who they are:

  • EastPac, NorthPac, WestPac, and SouthPac, all arms of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), combined to give $19,267. Since there are limits as to how much a political action committee may give, LABI simply bent the rules by creating not one, not two, not three, but four PACs.
  • Lane Grigsby: $2,500.
  • Todd Grigsby: $1,000.
  • ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) Pelican PAC: $2,500.
  • The Louisiana Homebuilders Association PAC: $2,500.
  • TransPac (a trucking industry PAC): $1,500.
  • Investment portfolio manager Meagan Shields: $3,000 (two $1,500 contributions).
  • Louisiana Student Financial Aid Association (LASFAA) PAC: $1,000.

Besides Koch Industries of Wichita, Kansas, out-of-state contributors included:

  • Republican State Leadership Committee, Washington, D.C.: $2,500.
  • Chevron, San Ramon, California: $2,500.
  • Stand for Children PAC, Portland, Oregon: $2,000.
  • Weyerhaeuser, Seattle, Washington: $1,500.
  • Marathon Petroleum, Findlay, Ohio: $1,500.
  • Tanner Barrow, Worthing, South Dakota: $1,000.
  • Micham Roofing, Sparta, Missouri: $500.

Louisiana contributors not from Livingston or East Baton Rouge Parish who contributed were from Bossier City, Slidell, New Orleans (2), Shreveport (2), Raceland, Jennings, Mandeville, Alexandria, Prairieville, Covington, Ponchatoula, and Gray.

So, those who haven’t already voted early may wish to ask themselves why the Republican party has turned on one of its own in such a vicious manner—but mostly why so much outside money is being poured into Edith Carlin’s campaign.

You may also wish to ask yourself whether she will be beholden to the people of Livingston Parish or to the faceless PACs of Baton Rouge, Washington, and elsewhere.

She may call herself a political outsider, but from here, she looks more like a puppet with the potential to be controlled by political insiders from outside Livingston Parish.

 

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Kira Orange Jones prevailed in the challenge to her candidacy for re-election to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education from the state’s 2nd District in a special court hearing in New Orleans on Tuesday, lending further validation to the theory that in Louisiana politics, anything goes.

That anything includes:

Jones listing at least three separate residents on various reporting forms submitted to the state;

Her failure to file Louisiana state income tax returns for the years 2015 and 2017 (a prerequisite to seeking political office in Louisiana, but…);

Her serving as executive director for Teach for America (TFA), which contracts with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), a clear conflict of interests and a not-so-trivial ethics question;

Her chronic absence from BESE meetings—she missed more than one-third of all meetings last year;

Here several years’ delinquency in filing required annual financial disclosure forms with the state—another requirement of candidates and even in-the-trenches civil service employees;

Her serving as a board member for a non-profit called Instruction Partners (IP) which is listed by LDOE as a vendor for professional development for 2018-19—another potential ethics problem and conflict of interest.

But what I found most humorous was the suggestion by educator and blogger Mercedes Schneider: “Given that Orange-Jones’ uninterrupted residence in BESE District 2 is in serious question (Her husband was at one time during her tenure New Mexico’s top education official), it seems in (opposition candidates) (Shawon) Bernard’s and (Ashonta) Wyatt’s best interest to file a claim against Orange-Jones with the Louisiana Ethics Board.”

So, why would I find that so amusing? Simple. Not to make light of Schneider’s well-intentioned suggestion, but the Ethics Board is Louisiana’s single biggest political JOKE going and has been since Bobby Jindal’s ethics “reform” of 2008.

Eight years ago, special interests hijacked BESE from Louisiana’s citizens by buying the offices of the likes of Orange-Jones, Jay Guillot, Holly Boffy, and others so that people like John White could ram through education “reform” designed to benefit corporate ownership of virtual on-line schools and charter schools.

Boffy, who is seeking re-election to her District 7 seat, is manager of an outfit called EdTalents in Lafayette, which, according to its web page, works to support schools or districts “in creating an educator talent system to attract, hire, place, develop, leverage, and retain teachers for student success.” Go HERE for the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate report on EdTalents.

She also is an Educator in Residence for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) for the central and southeastern states. CCSSO was instrumental in writing COMMON CORE standards for the state.

In other words, like Guillot when he served on the board, Boffy contracts for services with school districts that are governed and regulated by the board on which she sits.

No conflict or ethics problem there.

But let’s look at some of the results under the tenure of Orange-Jones, Boffy and White:

  • Today, every single charter school in New Orleans is FAILING;
  • Louisiana, after a decade of White’s leadership, remains the fourth-worst EDUCATED state in the nation;
  • While the state’s teachers were going without pay raises, 20 unclassified employees at LDOE raked in average PAY RAISES of nearly $27,000 each over a five-year period—that’s more than $5,000 per year, compared to the meager $1,000 raise teachers got this year—finally.
  • LDOE attempted to gloss over a major ERROR in the Minimum Foundation Program for fiscal year 2018-19 which created an actual $17 million surplus for LDOE, but instead of distributing the money to the schools as it should have done, LDOE made no mention of the error for fear of an audit. Instead, the money was expected to be used for one-time expenses for the department.

And did a single legislator raise the first question about the mistake?

Nah. It’s all good. Move along. Nothing to see here.

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