Louisiana editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Mar. 21, 2018
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate on New Orleans' crackdown on a mural quoting lewd comments from the U.S. president:
We never thought that quoting an American president could get a citizen threatened with jail. But in a political climate in which all sorts of civic norms seem to crumble by the day, maybe we shouldn't be surprised.
All of this comes to mind with the news that city officials in New Orleans have decided to crack down on a big mural quoting Donald Trump's lewd comments, caught on a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape, about how his celebrity status allowed him the freedom to sexually assault women.
Developer Neal Morris hired artist Cashy D to paint the mural on the side of a commercial building at 3521 S. Liberty St. It uses pictograms in place of words to depict some of Trump's most vulgar language. But city officials told Morris the mural violates zoning rules and ordered him to remove it, threatening a fine and jail time if he didn't comply.
Morris is suing the city, claiming the section of the city code cited in the letter doesn't exist and that his requests for clarification went unanswered.
It's not hard to imagine why a bureaucrat in over his pay grade at City Hall would take refuge in silence. Morris may have the principle of free speech on his side, but that's nothing to the Mural Monitors. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has also intervened on behalf of Morris.
Both the ACLU and Morris said they could not find any information on the Board of Murals, the ostensible local authority in the matter, including where or if such a board meets. Apparently, this arcane arm of New Orleans government is as well hidden as the likeness of General Lee.
The public should be concerned when any government official acts to limit political speech. It seems like some clarity is in order regarding the city's policies, and we must wonder why a mural no more noxious than the parodies often spotted on Carnival floats should be raising eyebrows in New Orleans, which isn't exactly a hotbed of puritanism.
Why not let Morris have his say? We're fairly sure that Trump, for his part, doesn't care what Neal Morris thinks.
The American Press on the recent approval for charter schools in Louisiana:
A recent decision by the state's top court secures the future of Louisiana charter schools, for now, and gives three local institutions more time to prove themselves.
Supporters were flying high last week when the court ruled that charter schools are, in fact, public schools entitled to state funding, ending a yearslong legal battle over the legitimacy of Louisiana's 30-plus charter schools.
Gene Thibodeaux, president of the Lake Charles Charter Academy Foundation, hailed the decision as a "monumental" victory that he hoped would stop the bickering among educators about charter funding.
Since 2011, three local charter schools have opened: Lake Charles Charter Academy, Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy and Lake Charles College Prep. They now serve about 2,000 students who, for one reason or another, chose not to attend the traditional public school in their district.
Charter schools are a relatively new phenomenon, with enrollment nearly tripling over the past decade, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In a nutshell, they are public schools granted greater autonomy — no oversight by school districts — in exchange for greater accountability.
They can't turn students away or charge tuition, and must participate in state testing and uphold the standards drawn up in their charters or risk being shut down. They have greater control over their curriculum, and teachers aren't required to be certified.
Supporters emphasize the freedom of the charter school format and the opportunity for greater innovation in the classroom. Meanwhile, critics say they drain funds from public schools and often fail to deliver academically.
Lake Charles College Prep last year received an F letter grade for school performance, dealing a blow to the high school's reputation. But backers point out that, because there wasn't a senior class until this year, the school earned zeros in categories like graduation rate, ACT scores, and strength of diploma — lowering its overall score.
The real test will come this year when the first seniors graduate, and over the next few years as all three institutions mature.
It's too soon to tell what the future holds for these schools, but the sentiment behind them — better opportunities for students struggling in tightly regulated traditional schools — is admirable.
Let's hope they uphold their end of the bargain, and that the battle over funding subsides as both sides work toward the mutual goal of serving students.
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune says Louisiana preschoolers need more opportunity — and funding — to thrive:
The Legislature passed a comprehensive preschool act in 2012, claiming to understand the connection between early education and a child's academic success. But six years later, lawmakers have yet to provide the money needed to improve Pre-K.
In fact, state funding has gone down.
Lawmakers can start to change that. House Bill 513 by Rep. Steve Carter, a Baton Rouge Republican, calls for $10 million in the Unclaimed Property Leverage Fund to be dedicated to the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund. The legislation, which is up for a vote in the House Education Committee Thursday, provides for the money to be used first for the Child Care Assistance Program waitlist.
There are currently 4,500 children on that list waiting for a spot in preschool, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children director Melanie Bronfin said. HB 513 won't help all those children, but it is a start.
State funding for pre-kindergarten classes was cut for the current budget year, and lawmakers added no money to a child care assistance program for low-income parents who are working or attending school. Despite passage of the 2012 early childhood act, those kinds of cuts have been common over the past decade.
Lawmakers have essentially ignored the pleas of a coalition of more than 20 groups called Ready Louisiana — which includes the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, League of Women Voters, Louisiana Budget Project, Stand for Children and other civic groups — to invest in early childhood education. The coalition wants the state to spend $208 million by 2020 on preschool.
The case for investing in preschool is easy to make: Ninety percent of a child's brain development occurs between birth and age 4, and quality Pre-K programs are a vital to that development. But the lack of funding means that many children in Louisiana don't have access to good child care or preschool.
Not only does that put them behind, it can undermine their parents' jobs. A 2017 report by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, LSU, Loyola University and Entergy found that the ability of parents with young children to work is directly affected by the availability of child care and preschool.
The report results are alarming: 14 percent of parents turned down a promotion because of child care issues; 18.5 percent went from full-time to part-time work; 16 percent had to quit their job, and more than 40 percent had to miss work or leave early during a 90-day period.
The Council for a Better Louisiana emphasized that connection in January post on its website: "As important as early education is in the cognitive development of children and their preparation for school, it is also becoming a workforce development issue of growing importance to businesses."
The childcare report estimated the Louisiana economy takes a hit of more than $1 billion a year because of lost wages and productivity connected to child care.
The Legislature is once again facing a budget deficit this spring with $994 million in taxes set to expire June 30. Lawmakers were unable to agree on a spending plan in their special session in February and have to have another special session in May or June to deal with the lost revenues. That leaves the budget in turmoil.
But Rep. Carter's bill is a painless way to pay for some of the preschool services that are so badly needed in Louisiana. That should be an easy vote.