The Oct. 22 statewide ballot will be crowded. In addition to statewide officials and legislators, candidates for parish offices, judgeships and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) also will appear on the ballot — along with constitutional amendments and (in some areas) local propositions. This week, we begin presenting our recommendations by looking at area BESE candidates and at state constitutional amendments.
BESE District 1: Jim Garvey
Jim Garvey currently serves as BESE's vice-president; he has been a member since 2007. He is a strong proponent of charter schools and of their most vocal local booster, the Educate Now! nonprofit. While charters are not a panacea for the longstanding ills of New Orleans' public schools, improved test scores and increased parental satisfaction at many of the city's new charters show how well charters can work in a broken system, given the right level of supervision and parental involvement. Garvey has served two years on BESE's accountability commission and knows the charter programs' strengths and weaknesses in Orleans Parish. He deserves re-election.
BESE District 2: Kira Orange Jones
Kira Orange Jones is challenging the eight-year incumbent in this race, but she has won endorsements from across the political spectrum. Her personal story is inspiring (a remedial student who went on to receive a masters' degree in education from Harvard). She taught in Baton Rouge and later became Teach For America's vice-president of New Site Development, partnering with community leaders to raise funds. While an advocate for charters, Jones is concerned about the rate of special-education students and others with disciplinary problems being expelled from some local charters — a concern we share. We believe she is the person who can help reverse this downside to the charter movement. We strongly endorse Jones for BESE's District 2 seat.
Amendment 1: FOR
Amendment 1 is known as the TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) amendment, but it's more than that. In addition to redirecting yearly proceeds from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement into the TOPS college tuition waiver fund, the proposition also would embed in the state constitution a 4-cent cigarette tax set to expire on June 30, 2012. Proceeds from that tax would be dedicated to the state's Health Excellence Fund, which supports children's health care through several programs. TOPS is very popular with voters, but it is expensive. Tuition waivers for qualifying students must be made up out of the state's general fund if the TOPS fund is inadequate. The amendment would help address that problem by dedicating to TOPS most of the annual receipts from the tobacco settlement for more than two decades to come. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 1.
Amendment 2: FOR
Amendment 2 dedicates 5 percent initially, then 10 percent after two years, of all non-recurring state revenues to reducing the liabilities of Louisiana's four state retirement systems. Those liabilities are currently out of control and threaten to render the funds insolvent at some future date. Past efforts to rein in retirement benefits — and the liabilities they create — have proved politically untenable. Amendment 2 is a modest step in the right direction. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 2.
Amendment 3: FOR
The Patients Compensation Fund was established nearly four decades ago to provide a stable source of revenue to pay medical malpractice claims. The money that goes into the fund is statutorily decreed to be "private" and therefore beyond the reach of governors and lawmakers during tough fiscal times. Amendment 3 makes that "private" label part of the constitution and therefore permanent. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 3.
Amendment 4: FOR
Louisiana has a savings account. It is officially called the Budget Stabilization Fund but is commonly known as the "rainy day" fund. The fund has many regulations governing how and when it can be tapped — and how it must be replenished. Amendment 4 provides that when the fund is tapped, excess mineral revenues that generally replenish it need not go back into the fund until the following fiscal year. This makes sense. Moreover, the constitution already contains protections against excessive raiding of the fund. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 4.
Amendment 5: FOR
Amendment 5 applies only to New Orleans. It clarifies, but does not change, current policy as regards the public auction of properties for which the owners are delinquent in paying taxes. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 5.