Last year, Rep. Richard Nelson sought to replicate the significant strides Mississippi has made to improve student reading scores. But his legislation died after lawmakers objected to the idea of holding back third-grade students who do not pass a mandatory reading assessment. Nelson is back with a similar proposal for the 2023 legislative session, but Louisiana isn’t the only state to target literacy standards for young students. Stateline’s Elaine S. Povich reports on the nationwide debate surrounding holding back third graders that don’t meet reading standards. 

Third grade is the pivot point for reading, according to studies and several experts interviewed by Stateline, as it is the break point between learning to read and reading to learn, which usually begins to happen in the fourth grade. … [Early literacy policy director for ExcelinEd Casey Taylor] She pointed to a working paper analyzing Mississippi schools published this year that found that between 2013 — when the state’s third-grade retention program began — and 2019, average fourth grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test increased by 10 points in Mississippi, more than any other state, while the national average declined by a point.

A St. Helena “sick out”
Public school teachers in St. Helena Parish are some of the lowest-paid in Louisiana – and apparently that’s just fine with local residents. Voters in the rural parish recently rejected two tax measures – a one-cent sales tax and 16.02-mill property tax – that would have provided salary increases for teachers and extra academic support for students. As The Advocate’s Jacqueline DeRobertis reports, the spurned teachers staged a “sick-out” on Monday, and parish authorities responded by closing schools because there weren’t enough available substitutes. 

“We are shocked. The failed tax measure would have provided literacy support for our young learners, enhance school safety and technology, offer more dual enrollment opportunities, and support employee retention,” the school employee letter said. “It’s hard to grasp why some parents, who depend on educators for everything, would deny their own children’s success in the district in which they live.” The district has listed high teacher turnover, lack of sustainable funding for academic programs and school safety as some of the factors that have negatively affected the school system’s progress.  

Crisis-pregnancy center tax credit advances
While bills aimed at providing tax credits for working families with children, new parents and adoptees have been shelved or seem unlikely to advance this legislative session, lawmakers have advanced an income tax credit for controversial crisis pregnancy centers. As the Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports, Sen. Beth Mizell’s Senate Bill 41 could cost the state as much as $5 million a year to subsidize a highly unregulated industry.

The Senate Finance Committee also removed a requirement that the Louisiana Department of Health vet the anti-abortion centers before they qualify for the tax credit incentives. Instead, the committee added language into the bill that declares the health department has “no regulatory authority over eligible maternal wellness centers.” Anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers have several critics. The organizations are faith-based and have falsely claimed abortion increases a person’s risk for breast cancer and infertility and equated emergency contraception to abortion, according to Lift Louisiana, an abortion rights advocacy organization. 

Pro-renter bills face pushback
Numerous pro-renter bills received pushback from lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee on Monday. Rep. Edmond Jordan’s House Bill 606 would require landlords to install lighting and security cameras and allow tenants to leave a lease if violent crime remains persistent near the property. House Bill 180 by Rep. Matt Willard aimed to protect formerly incarcerated people from numerous unsuccessful application fees, by requiring landlords to provide which crimes disqualify applicants. BRProud’s Shannon Heckt reports: 

“We always say that everybody deserves a second chance. Well, being someone who was formerly incarcerated,” said Edward Holmes of Step Up Louisiana. “Where is our second chance? All we ever get is denied. All we ever get is rejected.” The bill had numerous cards against it from apartment owners and realtors. “It’s a bit odd that we can’t let people know why they will be automatically denied housing opportunities before they pay an application fee. It sounds like a racket,” State Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, said. He voluntarily deferred the bill and plans to bring this bill back again next year to work on the language further to help get people into housing and work to reduce the recidivism rates in the state.

Number of the Day
$730 – Average monthly car payment in March, up from $686 in mid-2022. (Source: Edmunds via Washington Post)