High school students across the country forgo billions of dollars each year in federal aid available to pay for college because their families don’t fill out the required forms. Six years ago Louisiana became a national model by becoming the first state to require all high school students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before graduating. As a result of the change, Louisiana now leads the nation in the percentage of students who apply for Pell Grants, and at least a dozen other states have followed suit. But as the Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports, Education Superintendent Cade Brumley wants to scrap the successful policy thanks to pressure from conservative activists: 

Some conservatives oppose such policies, saying they pressure families to give sensitive financial information to the federal government. A former school district leader, Brumley spoke out against the FAFSA requirement in 2016, saying that “governmental intrusion into the lives of private citizens should always be minimized.” … If the state repeals the policy, [Executive director of the Tulane University’s Cowen Institute Amanda Kruger Hill] she said, fewer students will apply for and receive financial aid. “The net result will be fewer economically disadvantaged students going off to college,” she said.

Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose reports on how the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education caved to pressure from the far-right on another issue on Tuesday, by removing new early learning standards for students. 

Moms for Liberty members have converged on school board meetings throughout the country in recent years to move public education policy to the far right. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, considers Moms for Liberty an “extremist” group for its support of book bans and opposition to LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive education.    

Bills would make another Blue Cross sale harder
Two bills filed for the upcoming legislative session would make it harder for Louisiana’s largest health insurer to be acquired by a for-profit company. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana shelved its plan last month to be acquired by Elevance Health after opposition from doctors, hospitals, state lawmakers, the Louisiana Budget Project and others. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Stephanie Riegel explains

The bills target several concerns that were raised earlier this year by doctors, hospitals, some policyholders and state lawmakers over the proposed sale of Blue Cross to Indiana-based Elevance, one of the nation’s largest insurers. If passed, the bills would require more transparency and outside financial analysis of any proposed deal and would ensure that Blue Cross members would benefit from a sale.

Addressing higher ed retirement issues
Rep. Barbara Freiberg has filed legislation that would allow college faculty members and staff the ability to switch to a fixed benefits retirement plan similar to what’s available for state employees. Early in their careers, faculty members must choose a path toward retirement: an optional retirement plan, which allows them to take accrued benefits with them if they leave for another job outside of Louisiana, or a more lucrative state system. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson reports

Under Freiberg’s House Bill 31, a university employee who switches to the defined benefit plan would start at year zero for the purposes of retirement — meaning their benefit calculations would be based on the switch-over date, not when their employment began, although they would retain contributions to their portable retirement plans. … Under Freiberg’s proposal, only those in the optional retirement plan as of June 30 will be able to switch and will have to make their decisions by Dec. 30. 

Businesses challenge new protections for gig workers
A large group of U.S. businesses have sued to overturn President Biden’s new protections for gig workers. Biden’s move targeted the practice used by businesses to classify workers as independent contractors in order to deny them basic protections, such as minimum wage and overtime. The Washington Post’s Tony Romm reports

It is unclear how the new litigation might affect the way Biden’s aides implement the rules starting March 11. In a statement, the Labor Department said its approach would “help address the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, ensuring they receive the benefits and protections they deserve.” The agency added that it is “based on decades of judicial precedent.” … The case reflects the vast uncertainty surrounding one of the more burgeoning, and least regulated, aspects of the U.S. economy.

Number of the Day
70% – Percentage of Louisiana high-school seniors that applied for college financial aid before graduating, the highest in the nation. (Source: National College Attainment Network)