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By Amanda Litvinov
During his state of the state address delivered on Monday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards made it clear that the needs of public schools, students, and educators are a top priority.
At the beginning of his speech, delivered at the opening of the regular session of the state legislature, Gov. Edwards said he was “extremely disappointed” that the special session that had just ended did not result in a budget deal “to fix the fiscal cliff.
To illustrate the urgency of fixing the state’s financial crisis, Gov. Edwards told the story of a successful high school student–an Eagle Scout who scored 33 on his ACT exam–who is leaning toward attending school in Alabama, now that funding for Louisiana’s TOPS college scholarship program is uncertain.
“Losing to Alabama in the classroom should feel just as painful as losing to them on the football field,” Edwards said. “We should dread it…”
The governor also voiced a serious concern around a more sensitive economic issue that many students face. He called out the practice of lunch shaming, committing to do more to help schools provide school meals to all students, regardless of whether their accounts carry a balance.
One in four children live in poverty in Louisiana.
“This session, we will ensure that students are not stigmatized when they cannot afford to pay for a meal,” said Gov. Edwards. “When we are able to give students a well-balanced meal at the start of the day, they perform better, they are less likely to act out, which allows our teachers to focus their efforts on teaching.”
Although the state’s unemployment is at its lowest point in a decade, Louisiana has the second highest poverty rate in the country, and the third highest child poverty rate.
Part of Gov. Edwards’s proposal to help lift families out of poverty is raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour over the next two years. That wage hike would provide some relief to many of the state’s education support professionals who do not make a living wage, easing their financial struggles.
Another proposal would ease a stress that teachers face under the state’s evaluation system. Gov. Edwards supports legislation that would “reduce the part that the Value Added Model, or VAM plays in a teacher’s evaluation from 35% to 15%, to promote fairness and consistency.”
A survey conducted in August 2017 by the Louisiana Association of Educators shows that most Louisiana residents (55%) agree that student test performance should not play a major role in determining a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. The national 2017 PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools showed similar results.