Gov. John Bel Edwards bucked a legislative committee on Wednesday by approving a new pathway to high school graduation for Louisiana students who fail to meet minimum benchmarks on standardized tests. While the state’s top school board, teachers unions and other advocacy groups support the plan, Republicans on the House Education Committee, at the urging of top GOP leaders, rejected it last week. The Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate’s Ellyn Couvillion and James Finn report

 In a letter to committee chairman Rep. Lance Harris, Edwards said, “education research illustrates that Louisiana’s current policy of denying students a diploma based on the results of a standardized test does not reflect best practices.” “While standardized tests can be useful, this proposed rule will provide teachers with greater ability to meet the needs of individual students, and, therefore, I disapprove of the action taken by the House Committee on Education,” Edwards said.

While Edwards (temporarily) has the final say on the proposal, Gov.-elect Jeff Landry opposes the plan and can strike it down when he takes office next year. Only eight states require passing a standardized test to graduate. Of these, Louisiana is the only one without an appeals process.

Blocking public records requests
Access to public records – a key tool for maintaining trust between citizens and government – is deteriorating rapidly nationwide. In 2021, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who will become governor in January, sued (unsuccessfully) a Times-Picayune |Baton Rouge Advocate reporter over a request for sexual harassment records of a top official. Route Fifty’s Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene explain how access to these crucial documents is under siege. 

The ability of people to get records that are supposed to be made publicly available has been “deteriorating terribly,” according to David Cuillier, director of the Brechner Freedom of Information Project at the University of Florida. In fact, a nonprofit organization called MuckRock, which consults with people and organizations in their efforts to get public records, has found that about 10 years ago such efforts were successful about half the time. Today, that’s down to about 18%.

Hypocrisy on fiscal responsibility 
U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson upended a major foreign aid package earlier this week by stripping funds for Ukraine and Taiwan and tying $14 billion in aid to Israel with offsetting cuts to the Internal Revenue Service. But the cut would mean the federal government will have fewer resources to ensure the ultra-wealthy comply with our tax laws, which in turn will grow the federal budget deficit by more than $90 billion over the next decade, according to the head of the tax agency. The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage and Jeff Stein report on the controversial plan. 

[IRS commissioner Daniel] Werfel’s assertion, which is based on IRS modeling that shows a 6-1 ratio of money spent on tax enforcement to revenue collected, complicates the GOP’s attempts to characterize President Biden as fiscally irresponsible. … “I think it was intellectually lazy,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), the vice chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, told The Post. “Rhetorically, it’s sort of what we’ve always done. It’s a little hard to have, ‘I care about debt,’ and then at the same time move something as your pay-for that actually will have a multiplier of raising the debt.”

Next generation of Black farmers on the next farm bill
The 2018 version of the federal farm bill – a multi-year law that includes funding and rules for agriculture and food programs – provided more support for Black farmers. But that legislation expired in September as chaos over a potential government shutdown consumed Congress. Verite’s Josie Abugov explains what the next generation of young Black farmers in Louisiana want from the new farm bill. 

In the next farm bill, [Ashley] Webb would like to see more grants and programs that connect urban and rural farmers together or to intermediaries, like Barcelo Gardens. This would give more opportunities for farmers to sell their produce while offering people in cities a healthier and more varied diet, Webb said. [Michael] Richard would also like to see greater funding to incentivize more farmers of color such as Webb and himself. Young Black and brown farmers are needed to counteract an aging farming population, he said, but he also believes they will benefit their communities. 

Number of the Day
144 million – Estimated pieces of litter on Louisiana’s roadways. State drivers pass an average of 10,178 pieces of litter for every mile traveled on the interstate. (Source: Keep Louisiana Beautiful)