Public colleges and universities, public school teachers and Louisiana’s highways and bridges are likely to benefit from the latest uptick in the state’s revenue projections. The state Revenue Estimating Conference recognized an additional $1.5 billion – $925 million for the current fiscal year and $608 million for the 2023-24 budget year – as Louisiana’s economy continues to benefit from the influx of federal aid and higher-than-expected tax collections. The annual task of dividing up the money starts next month, when  Gov. John Bel Edwards will release his budget recommendation. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports: 

But (Jay) Dardenne — the governor’s top financial lieutenant — said the extra money is so significant that teacher pay hikes and aid for colleges, not just onetime dollars for infrastructure, would be likely targets when Edwards unveils his spending proposals in February. … This year is an election year for lawmakers and others, which boosts chances for a substantial teacher pay boost. Both Dardenne and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the $1.5 billion will benefit infrastructure, including roads and bridges.

State Supreme Court doubles down on injustice
In 2018, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly overturned a Jim Crow law that allowed people to be convicted of crimes even when some of their jurors did not believe they were guilty. But last October the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with its federal counterpart that the state’s ban on non-unanimous convictions was not retroactive. The Advocate’s James Gill decries the reasoning for not administering justice –  it would cause a “high administrative burden” on the state –  and outlines the right approach taken by Oregon. 

In her dissent, [Justice Piper] Griffin argued that injustices from Louisiana’s past demand action now from the state’s high court. If a conviction was unconstitutional in 1898, it is unconstitutional today, she argued rather persuasively. “That the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 somehow cleansed the nonunanimous jury system of its racial animus and impact is an untenable position,” she opined. The Oregon District Attorneys’ Association noted in an amicus brief that the latest ruling in that state will make it more difficult to secure convictions, but added that it “should be difficult to take someone’s liberty” anyway.

McCarthy concessions could lead to budget catastrophe
With a bruising battle to select Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House now behind them, Republicans in the lower chamber will transition this week to governing. Congressional GOP members are once again signaling their desire to use the federal debt-ceiling fight and a deadline to fund the government to force spending cuts to popular programs such as Medicare and Social Security. But the Washington Post’s Tony Romm explains on how the concessions McCarthy made to gain the gavel could also lead to a dangerous fiscal showdown with global and domestic consequences: 

To put an end to days of raucous debate, party lawmakers said they agreed to drive a hard line in upcoming budget talks, potentially including demands for significant changes to Social Security and Medicare. “That is the biggest challenge in this Congress,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a top ally to McCarthy, shortly after the speaker vote, adding that “debt, deficit and the fiscal house — that is a major priority for House Republicans.”

Phonics movement comes to high school
Louisiana’s reading scores have flatlined over the past decade, with only 55% of fourth grade students in the state reading at or above the “basic” level. During this time other states, like Mississippi, have jumped us in the rankings in part by focusing on the science of reading, more commonly known as phonics. While the emphasis on phonics has mostly focused on younger students, the New York Times’ Sarah Mervosh reports on a phonics-movement in Memphis high schools that incorporates these lessons in every academic class. 

In Memphis, which faced enrollment declines during the pandemic, district leaders are applying lessons from the science of reading to high school students. That includes basic phonics for some who need it. But every student — including top performers — is learning to break down new vocabulary words, part by part. “It helps all of the students,” said Oakhaven’s principal, Jocelyn Mosby. At the start of each academic class at Oakhaven, students spend 15 minutes or so learning vocabulary and pulling the words apart. In biology, for example, students wrote down the definition of “prophase” (the first stage of cell division) and identified the prefix (“pro” means forward) before diving into the material.

Number of the Day
64% – Percentage of respondents who believe Louisiana local governments should grant tax breaks for solar power farms. The poll surveys top Jefferson and Orleans parish influencers in business, politics, arts, media, nonprofits and community affairs. (Source: The Times-Picayune Power Poll)