Louisiana’s history of endemic poverty has held back generations of its citizens. Families that can’t afford basic necessities often forgo needed medical care, and children growing up in poverty are more likely to fall behind in school and less likely to graduate. Poverty, perpetuated by structural racial barriers, can create cycles of hopelessness that hold people back from reaching their full potential. The inimitable Jim Beam of the Lake Charles American-Press urges our state leaders to tackle this solvable crisis: 

The official poverty rate in Louisiana, for example, was 19.6 percent in 2021, highest in the nation and representing about 883,000 citizens. The median income of $52,087 in 2021 was third lowest in the nation. National median household income was $70,800. … (The Louisiana Budget Project)  says Louisiana can build a stronger, more equitable economy that works for all Louisianans by establishing a state minimum wage that rises with inflation and by reforming the tax structure to support students, build strong communities and safeguard its most vulnerable citizens.  Programs are underway that should help reduce the state’s poverty numbers.

A higher education retirement crisis
Early in their careers, faculty members at Louisianas’ colleges and universities must choose a path toward retirement: an optional retirement plan, which allows them to include retirement money they’ve already accumulated in previous jobs, or a more lucrative state system. Many who chose the optional plan, influenced by the uncertainty of a career in academia, have now come to regret that decision as they have gained tenure or not moved on to more prestigious jobs. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson reports on legislative and legal efforts to allow faculty members to switch plans.

In the 2022 regular session, Sens. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, and Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, introduced Senate Bill 10, which would’ve allowed individuals in the optional retirement plan to switch to Teachers’ on an actuarial basis. The bill ran into problems when it was realized that although it was designed to be cost neutral for the state, it would actually result in millions of dollars in cost for the state. … LSU Professors Kevin Cope and Roger Laine are suing the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana. … According to the lawsuit, if Cope were to retire, his optional retirement plan account would provide him $1,750 per month. Cope has been a professor at LSU for 40 years. 

Unbuilt highway strangles Black neighborhood 
A 3.5-mile stretch of roadway designed to link two existing segments of interstate in Shreveport had been discussed for decades, but in 2012, the I-49 Inner-City Connector was gaining momentum. Local officials and business leaders championed the interstate as a way to boost economic development. Unfortunately, the construction would cut through Allendale, a low-income Black neighborhood that was just starting to see revitalization efforts. While it appears that the interstate’s path through Allendale has been stopped, Brookings’ Megan Kimble explains how the prospect of more than a decade of destruction has already strangled the neighborhood. 

“The real damage of this project is not that it ever actually happens,” says (Rep. Cedric) Glover (of Shreveport), who watched as four governors fought to get I-49 North funded. There is no such high-level champion for the Inner-City Connector today, he says. “Recognizing what those funding challenges are tells me it likely does not happen. But by just simply coming up with a record of decision and designating the corridor, means that, if you never end up pouring an ounce of concrete, you still killed Allendale. There will be no growth and no development, no opportunity to be able to bring people back to that neighborhood.”

War on emotions in the classroom
Last month, members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education caved to conservative pressure in announcing they will review previously approved early learning standards for the third time. The opposition stems from fears, unsupported by facts, about the new standards’ emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) — a framework for helping children manage their emotions and maintain positive relationships with others. While SEL has been a non-controversial topic for decades that garnered bipartisan support, it has now become the latest flashpoint in America’s culture wars. Vox’s Fabiola Cineas explains how we got here. 

When parents couldn’t find evidence of critical race theory being taught at their children’s schools, political strategists went back to the drawing board to find something that would stick, said Jim Vetter, the co-leader of SEL4US, a national SEL nonprofit. “They started focusing on SEL as the Trojan horse to get CRT into our schools,” Vetter said. And that has meant scrubbing the phrase “social-emotional learning” from school district websites, more teachers who are afraid to correspond with parents on the subject, and an overall chilling effect, Vetter said. For Zimmerman, the assault on SEL speaks to even broader changes in the story of America’s public schools. “The reason we got here,” Zimmerman said, “is because, since 2016, enormous rifts have been exposed in the United States around what we think the country is and what we think it means. 

Number of the Day
26.7% – Percentage of Louisiana workers who are age 55 or over, up from 13.1% in 1980. (Source: Economic Policy Institute via LBP’s State of Working Louisiana.)