Children in Louisiana continue to suffer from high rates of poverty, struggling families and poor health outcomes, according to the 2024 edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation with its Louisiana partner, Agenda for Children. Louisiana ranked 48th among the 50 states – ahead of only Mississippi and New Mexico. The Pelican State still ranks near the bottom on all four of the reports main indicators, but did slightly improve in three categories. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Elyse Carmosino reports

Louisiana has made some progress, including in reading achievement, according to the report, which ranked states based on 16 measures of child well-being. But the state still struggles with high childhood poverty rates and low math scores. As with other states, the pandemic threw a wrench in many of the gains Louisiana was making, said Teresa Falgoust, director of data and research at Agenda for Children in New Orleans, a nonprofit that works to improve child well-being in Louisiana. 

Gov. Jeff Landry signed legislation on Tuesday allowing students to opt-out of the ACT. The new law permits students who plan to enter the workforce instead of pursuing a higher education degree to take the WorkKeys test or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery instead. Landry’s approval came despite requests from the state’s top school board and a chorus of state and national groups for him to veto the legislation. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports

“Mandating ACT testing for all students subjects them to the task of taking a test they have absolutely no use for,” [Landry] said in a post on X. “Today, this burdensome practice will end.” … In a June 5 letter to the governor, BESE members said the bill would “water down” school standards because the ACT is one of the measures Louisiana uses to rate high schools. The bill will steer more students to take a job-skills test instead of the more academically rigorous ACT, leading to inflated school scores, the members warned. 

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted for major changes to the state’s school grading system on Tuesday. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall breaks down the new standards and the controversy surrounding them:

Currently, about half of Louisiana public schools earn As or Bs. After the overhaul, fewer than a third are expected to earn top grades, according to the state education department. …  But education reform advocates argued Tuesday that the current system sets a low bar for student achievement, leading to artificially high grades. They pointed out that nearly 70% of Louisiana high schools earn As or Bs, yet the state ranks 40th nationally for K-12 education.

State rainy day funds, including in Louisiana, have ballooned in recent years. But the revenue growth that has bolstered these funds is slowing down. Pew’s Josh Goodman, John Hamman and Sariah Toze explain factors that states consider when tapping into their savings accounts: 

Although this maxim is easy to understand in theory—use the rainy day fund for temporary shortfalls, not structural ones—applying it can be more difficult. It’s not always obvious where and when temporary problems end and structural problems begin. Furthermore, rainy day funds have grown so much that some policymakers have begun to wonder whether their savings are larger than necessary. 

Louisiana lawmakers recently agreed to tap into a state savings account to pay for one-time construction projects, including incurred costs from the state’s renewed effort on mass incarceration. 

Louisiana’s Cancer Alley contains levels of ethylene oxide – a cancer-causing chemical – that are significantly higher than state and federal regulators have measured, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University. Grist’s Naveena Sadasivam reports

“From over two decades of doing these measurements, we’ve always found that the measured concentrations of pretty much every pollutant is higher than what we expect,” said Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University and an author of the study. “In the case of ethylene oxide, this is particularly important because of the health risks associated with it at such low levels.”

Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality only has 40 stationary air monitoring sensors in one of the most polluted states in the country. Researchers and other citizen-led efforts have attempted to fill this gap by conducting their own air monitoring, but a recently passed law prevents this type of independent data from being counted and used for enforcement or regulatory actions. 

61% – Percentage of Louisiana residents that say the state is heading in the wrong direction. (Source: Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication)