U.S. News & World Report is a “recognized leader in college, grad school, hospital, mutual fund, and car rankings.” Three years ago, about the same time as Gov. John Bel Edwards was taking office, the publication began ranking states, measuring “outcomes for citizens [by] using more than 70 metrics” and “thousands of data points.”
The headline last week in The Advocate read, “Louisiana dead last for 3rd straight year in ‘Best States’ list; Edwards: rankings inaccurate.”
Louisiana’s three-peat of finishing 50th seems to blow a hole in the governor’s TV spots and campaign theme of “(we) are moving in the right direction.”
Based on the ranking, we aren’t moving at all. The census shows the only thing moving in Louisiana is people—out of the state.
Fact is, from 2017 to 2018, Louisiana is one of only nine states that had a net loss of population—the fourth largest, with 27,914 people moving to other states.
Louisiana, in finishing last in the U.S. News rankings, performed the worst among all states in the areas of economic opportunity, pollution, and crime and corrections. The state was also near the bottom in terms of economy (49th in economic growth) as well as education and infrastructure (both at 48th).
Edwards’ response to this sobering news is to shoot the messenger and question the rankings’ accuracy. “It takes time for improvement to show up in data,” he said, “and some of the U.S. News and World Report’s data sources are several years old, which is frustrating.” He went on to claim we are doing better and it will show up later—after the election.
Two areas did manage to get a slight bump: fiscal stability and health care. How did the governor do it? The good ‘ol democratic way—tax-and-spend. (We do rank No. 1 with the nation’s highest sales tax.)
I suspect the governor will keep running those commercials and repeating his theme while hoping voters don’t read U.S. News & World Report or a newspaper. If so, maybe they’ll forget by election day.
A decade of leadership
The headline read, “Decade-long effort pays off: Louisiana public high school graduation rate reaches 81 percent.” The Advocate went on to report “Louisiana’s public high school graduation rate exceeds 80%, state education officials announced. The rate is 81.4% for the Class of 2018, up from 78.2% for the Class of 2017.”
State Superintendent of Education John White was quoted by The Advocate as saying, “The positive results announced today reflect many years of relentless focus in our schools, and more progress is on the horizon.”
School officials, reported the newspaper, said Louisiana’s rate gain outpaced the nation since 2012—9.1 percentage points compared to 4.6 percentage points nationally.
Moreover, the story noted, “The graduation rate for black students in the state exceeded the national average for the first time—over 78% compared to 77.8% in the 2017 national figures.”
There is irony in this story. In 2009, a state law—sponsored by then-state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and then-state Rep. John Bel Edwards—declared the graduation rate should reach 80% starting with the Class of 2014, up from the 66.6% rate at that time.
While it has taken twice as long, Nevers praised the announcement saying, “It has been a long time coming. That is a huge accomplishment.” I agree, but the irony is it would not have happened except for the leadership and dedication of John White and a BESE members that stood strong. I applaud them all.
Thanks should also go to former Gov. Bobby Jindal (who backed White to become superintendent and many elected to BESE board), Rep. Steve Carter, Sen. Conrad Appel, Rep. Nancy Carter, Lane Grigsby, Eddie Rispone, Paul Pastorek, Leslie Jacobs and others—who all supported White and the BESE board over the past decade, enabling them to sow the seeds we are reaping now.
But, back to the irony: While Edwards co-authored the bill setting the 80% goal, his 2015 gubernatorial campaign promise was stated in another Advocate headline: “Governor candidate John Bel Edwards says schools chief John White needs to go.” The article quoted Edwards as saying, “I have no intention of allowing John White, who isn’t qualified to be a middle school principal, to remain as superintendent when I am governor. We have so many highly qualified candidates right here in Louisiana that we don’t need to go looking in New York City for our next head of K-12 education.” He was wrong.
It’s that kind of old school politics and close-minded attitude that keeps Louisiana in the rankings basement. Thanks to real leadership and vision, these proud graduates—and the rest of us—can celebrate and be thankful that BESE had the votes to keep White, the top state superintendent in the nation, and stop Edwards and his teacher unions allies. Otherwise, we would not have reached this milestone.
Great ‘firsts’ for BR education
Last week was a great one in East Baton Rouge Parish for innovation in education for children and big steps forward. I got to personally witness all three events take place. It was inspiring. Our community can celebrate all three of these “firsts” and their positive impact on children and the future.
• Our EBR School Board finally approved nationally acclaimed KIPP Public Charter Schools to open three locations in Baton Rouge—18 years after first applying and being run out of town by our school board and teacher unions. Kudos to school board members Mike Gaudet, Mark Bellue, Jill Dyason, Tramelle Howard, Dadrius Lanus and David Tatman for voting “yes.” (Connie Bernard was absent.) Thanks also to Superintendent Warren Drake and New Schools for Baton Rouge for their support for innovation and children.
In all, four charter organizations had their applications approved: KIPP, Basis, Helix and CSAL. Congratulations. We move forward boldly and welcome the first KIPP to Baton Rouge.
• Also last week, there was a special graduation of the first senior class at THRIVE Academy. Founded seven years ago by Sarah Broome, a Teach for America alumna, as an innovative, residential charter school, it now has 180 students, grades 6-12, who live at the state school five days a week, going to class, doing homework, performing chores, participating in extracurricular activities and even taking classes at community college. It’s amazing. Thrive changes lives. Congratulations to all of those in the first graduating class and best wishes as they pursue their dreams. And special thanks to Broome, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, many private donors and elected officials for their support for children.
• And there was another first: graduation of the premier class of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy. Launched by Deborah Sternberg in a partnership with the LSU College of Business, this unique program for students from the Capital Region introduces students to entrepreneurship and fuels their dreams. Participants in the inaugural class ranged in age from 13 to 18, representing 15 Capital Region schools. Congratulations to these graduates and aspiring entrepreneurs. Our community needs you.
If your child or grandchild is a budding entrepreneur, applications are now open for the next fall class at yeabr.org.