The Blog

Let DC and BR know how much you care about the coast

Let DC and BR know how much you care about the coast

President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget and more recently Gov. Bobby Jindal’s midyear budget reductions include plans to swipe funds dedicated to protecting and restoring Louisiana’s coast. Any move to reduce money dedicated to our coast is shortsighted and detrimental to the well-being of our state and our nation.

While it is true that the governor’s proposed $1.2 million reduction does not directly impact coastal restoration projects, it is the wrong plan nonetheless. As a community, we must stand united and send a clear message to Washington and Baton Rouge that saving our coast is a top priority.

Like poison coursing through our veins, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico flows inland through a web of navigation canals killing our coast. The conversation about Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands began more than 40 years ago, but the political will was not there. Many thought the cost of repairing the coast was too high. It is exponentially higher now, and we continue to lose land at the alarming rate of a football field every hour.

Over time, a groundswell of support for saving our coast has emerged. A recent poll conducted by the America’s Wetland Foundation shows that 74 percent of Louisiana voters representing both political parties say, “Saving Louisiana’s coast is the most important issue of my lifetime.”

The people of Louisiana demonstrated their commitment to the coast in 2006 when they ratified a constitutional amendment to dedicate offshore oil royalties to coastal restoration and protection projects. Armed with our commitment, then U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu fought for and passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which provides Louisiana and other coastal states 37.5 percent of royalties on new drilling starting in 2017, instead of the minuscule amount that we have been receiving.

With this long-awaited, dedicated stream of funding finally in sight, President Obama has moved to scrap it, citing that offshore waters belong to all Americans and that the money should benefit the entire nation. The president is correct, but his plan is wrong. Indeed, the money should be used to benefit the entire nation, but by shoring up Louisiana’s coast rather than allowing it to disappear. Our state and her people have borne the burden of fueling our nation for generations, and it is long past time Louisiana receives her fair share. States with drilling on federal lands onshore receive 50 percent of those revenues. Gulf states should not be treated differently.

At this critical time when the promise of revenue sharing is being threatened, we must, more than ever, stand united in our commitment to the coast. That includes protecting the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund and not reducing it by a single penny. Gov. Jindal and my colleagues in the Legislature must guard the fund during what will surely be a difficult budget process. If we waiver, we will be demonstrating to the federal government that coastal protection and restoration is not a priority. It is. In addition to harming the cause, reducing the fund might create a slippery slope that could doom our coast forever.

We need our due share of offshore revenue and money from the trust fund to implement the state’s $50 billion, 50-year master plan to protect and restore our coast. Raiding these funds would be robbing us of our future.

Show your commitment to the coast; visit thirdcoastleadership.com to add your name to a growing list of supporters and tell lawmakers in Baton Rouge and D.C. that our coast is a priority.

Walter “Walt” J. Leger III of New Orleans represents District 91 in the Louisiana House of Representatives and is speaker pro tempore.

BESE must continue the Louisiana plan

BESE must continue the Louisiana plan

Louisianans are proud of our heritage and traditions.

Unfortunately we are more recognized for cultural excellence — food, music, and sports — than for performance in the classroom. In reading and math, we rank among the bottom five states. Our college graduation rates are among the lowest in the country, and high-paying Louisiana jobs often go unfilled by our graduates.

In response, in 1999, under Gov. Mike Foster, we created the LEAP and iLEAP tests, measuring how well schools teach college and workplace skills.

As a result of this “accountability” plan, achievement has improved. On the National Assessment of Education Progress, the typical Louisiana student today is mathematically ahead of the typical student 15 years ago by nearly three-quarters of a grade level. And the state’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.

But still our academic achievement ranks among the bottom three states.

In 2009, Louisiana education officials asked how we could make so much improvement and still be so far behind. They found that many other states expected more of their students.

That year, Louisiana educators participated in creating the Common Core State Standards, to establish high expectations in reading, writing, and math skills that would be shared across state lines. For the first time, Louisiana could compete on a level playing field with other states.

In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature took this a step further, passing a law requiring that state tests measure students against the new standards.

In 2014, 50,000 Louisiana students tried out these new tests, called PARCC. Next month, 300,000 Louisiana students will take the same challenging tests as will 5 million students across America.

But the Louisiana accountability plan should not stop there. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has set a goal that by the year 2025 schools rated “A” will be those whose students master these nationally competitive standards. BESE should make two improvements to the plan to help students achieve that goal.

First, state rules require that every seven years there be a review of the state’s academic standards. A review of the Common Core English and math standards is scheduled to start in 2016.

That is too far away. Using ACT results, high school graduation rates and college graduation figures, BESE can analyze how well the current standards are preparing students for college. BESE should convene a commission of Louisiana teachers to review English and math standards in light of these results, and do so on an ongoing basis. BESE should keep the standards that are equipping students for college and the workplace, and it should adjust those that are not working.

Second, the law requires BESE to administer annual tests, such as ACT and PARCC, which show how well we compete with states across the country.

BESE’s contract with the company implementing the PARCC test in Louisiana expires this summer, but, rather than waiting, BESE should immediately launch a competitive bidding process, partnering with a company to provide the Louisiana test required by law.

A quality test will measure student performance against our state’s high English and math standards. It also will show results that are comparable to those in other states.

Such a test could include PARCC questions, for which students and teachers have been preparing for five years. But it shouldn’t be limited to PARCC questions, especially if there are other questions that measure high expectations and allow us to compete with other states.

What’s more, Louisiana teachers should continue to review and provide input on test questions, and Louisiana parents should be able to review full sample tests each year. BESE should reduce the number of tests required in high school, just as it should provide parents of children in the earliest grades a better guideline for measuring whether students are on track.

For 16 years, across three governors and five legislatures, the Louisiana accountability plan has improved the lives of children in our state. We are at a pivotal time, and it is important that BESE make improvements. But, for our children, and for their children, BESE must continue the Louisiana plan.

Rep. Chris Broadwater (R), District 86, lives in Hammond. Sen. Eric LaFleur (D), District 28, lives in Ville Platte. Rep. Walt Leger (D), District 91, lives in New Orleans. Sen. Mike Walsworth (R), District 33, lives in West Monroe.

Our Infrastructure Report Card…somebody’s going to be grounded

Our Infrastructure Report Card…somebody’s going to be grounded

Louisiana is known as the gateway to the Americas. Our extensive waterways, abundant ports, and oil and gas system are some of the greatest assets in our arsenal. But did you know that last year the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Louisiana a grade of C- for our infrastructure?

Brain-eating amoebas, sinking streets, “high-hazard” dams, “deficient” bridges… No, we won’t stand for it! We need world-class ports, streets, and rail to transport the food, energy, and goods that we deliver to the nation. Our ports alone move 500 million tons of cargo each year.

The specific low grades that Louisiana scored — D for roads, D+ for bridges, D+ for drinking water, and C- for ports, to name a few — are a call for reform. Louisiana has outdated infrastructure, and the time has come to modernize.

What it Means to be a Third Coaster

What it Means to be a Third Coaster

A Third Coaster is someone who sees our state’s potential and wants to act on that potential to bring about a better Louisiana. A Third Coaster recognizes that while the state has come a long way, there are concrete ways to make Louisiana a place with a strong middle class, low unemployment rates, advanced infrastructure, quality education, sustainable environmental policies, and where all citizens have accessible health care. These aren’t novel priorities, but Third Coast Leadership is a new way to get us there — and we’re energized!

Third Coasters choose to be an active part of creating the new and improved Louisiana. They know that Third Coast Leadership PAC is instrumental in this development because it recognizes and supports who and what will move Louisiana forward. Members of the team value the issues that Third Coast brings to the forefront, and they make the decision to take action instead of sitting back and watching Louisiana move ahead without them. Third Coasters know that great things are going to happen in the state and want to be at the center of it all.

If this description resonates with you, join our team and help us create a better Louisiana.

Vote ‘yes’ on New Orleans school maintenance fund

Vote ‘yes’ on New Orleans school maintenance fund

Published as a Letter to the Editor, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on November 28, 2014

Imagine purchasing your dream car, with all the bells and whistles, but never changing the oil. Before you knew it, the engine would burn up, and the car would be rendered useless. That’s essentially what is threatening our newly built and renovated public school facilities, which have been brought up to national standards with $2 billion in FEMA and insurance proceeds. The looming problem is that the Orleans Parish School Board does not have, nor has it ever had, dedicated revenue to maintain its buildings. That is why our schools were in such deplorable condition prior to Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches.

I authored Act 543 to give New Orleanians the opportunity to vote on a proposition to re-direct an existing bond millage to the preservation and maintenance of our public school buildings. It is NOT a new tax. The purpose of this legislation is to make sure funds are dedicated to maintaining our school facilities for generations without raising taxes. This is a commonsense approach to meeting an obligation to our children, who we would be failing if we allowed our public schools to fall back into disrepair.

The funding can only be used for maintenance and a number of oversight mechanisms have been built into Act 543. Each school will have to create a maintenance plan, and the funds could only be spent in accordance with these plans. Additionally, new facilities offices will be created to inspect and monitor buildings to ensure that they are being maintained. If a school is not compliant, the facilities office will step in, and the school’s ability to access maintenance funds may be suspended or terminated.

Whether they attend charter, OPSB or Recovery School District operated schools, we owe it to our children to support this proposition. The money will be dedicated to school campuses, and whichever entity is governing a school will administer the funds. If governance changes, so too would administration of the money. Our community may have an ongoing discussion about how our schools are governed. We may disagree about policies and politics. But we all can agree to rally behind our students. That is why I encourage you to vote “yes” on the school maintenance proposition on the Dec. 6 ballot.

Leger Supports Lawsuit Against Jindal on Common Core

Leger Supports Lawsuit Against Jindal on Common Core

“In a clear act of executive overreach, Governor Jindal’s attempt to abandon Common Core has placed politics ahead of our children and the future of our state. We cannot and will not stand for it. The lawsuit filed by parents against the governor sends the message that the people of our state will not allow misguided politics to choke off the promise of a better Louisiana. The lawsuit brings to light the real issues on which we should be focusing, following the law so that we can meet the needs of students, parents, and teachers. Again and again their interests have taken a back seat to political ambition and been held hostage by a small but vocal minority. I commend the parents across the state who took bold action today to do what is right and improve our education system. I will continue standing with them to help ensure that their cause succeeds.”

Rep. Leger Releases Statement on Gov. Jindal’s Attempt to Abandon Common Core

“Louisiana students deserve the same opportunities as children across the United States, and for too long we have let our education standards lag behind. That is why Governor Jindal’s attempts to abandon Common Core are all the more reprehensible.

The public will remember that, before he opposed it, Gov. Jindal supported Common Core in 2010 and signed it into law with Act 275 in 2012. Louisiana joined with 43 other states in setting common expectations in English language arts and mathematics. Unfortunately, as the governor’s political ambitions increased, he began catering to extremists who oppose the standards.

The governor is irresponsibly perpetuating a campaign of misinformation surrounding Common Core, including the myth that the federal government would be taking over our schools. The facts are that Common Core is a state-led effort, and the federal government does not govern it. The Louisiana Department of Education, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and local school districts will continue to drive the implementation of Common Core.

In order to keep moving forward, a group of pragmatic Democrats and Republicans joined with me to author HB 953. The bill passed with more than two-thirds of the legislature supporting it, but the governor vetoed it on Friday. HB 953 was a compromise that would have allowed Louisiana to continue implementing the Common Core expectations and tests, while giving students and teachers two extra years to prepare before accountability measures went into effect.

As a state that consistently ranks 48th or 49th in education, we took action to ensure that Louisiana’s students would be better prepared to compete nationally. There is no doubt that Gov. Jindal’s plan would set us back, and our children would be the ones to suffer most. Districts, schools, teachers, and students have been working to meet the new standards for several years, and the governor is pulling the rug out from under them just weeks before classes are scheduled to begin. It is unethical to denigrate their immense efforts at this point in the implementation process.

Governor Jindal’s plan to abandon Common Core is a clear example of executive overreach. And while I was disappointed to hear his announcement, I take solace in the fact that the law is on our side. It empowers BESE and the Louisiana Department of Education to set standards and mandates that “[b]eginning with the 2014-2015 school year, standards-based assessments shall be based on nationally recognized content standards.”

I commend Superintendent White and the Louisiana Department of Education and Chas Roemer and BESE for maintaining their commitment to Common Core and improving public education in our state.”