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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.