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School districts superintendents could soon be graded on student math, English scores • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Allison Allsop – 2024-04-03 14:41:37

School districts superintendents could soon be graded on student math, English scores

by Allison Allsop, Louisiana Illuminator
April 3, 2024

Superintendents of Louisiana public school districts would be evaluated based on their students' math and English test scores based on proposed legislation a committee advanced Wednesday. 

Rep. John Wyble, R-Franklinton, authored House Bill 112 that would require all superintendent contracts to include performance evaluations based on the English and math scores for K-3 students, along with other student growth factors. 

Superintendents are evaluated by their own school boards. Wyble's bill would affect new contracts and those renewed after Aug. 1. 

“It's really important that we continue to focus that investment but also bring in some accountability with it so that we know that our local school districts are moving in that positive direction,” Wyble said. 

The investment Wyble referenced is a policy change made last year. Former Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, who now leads the state revenue department, gained approval for a measure to hold back students in the third grade if they did not reach the age-appropriate reading level. It goes into effect for the 2024-25 school year. 

Additional advances in English education practices have made Louisiana one of three states to reach pre-pandemic levels in reading assessments. 

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will be part of the superintendent assessment process. According to Wyble, board members will help create the standards and formula for incorporating math and English scores into the superintendent's annual review. 

His bill calls for math and English scores to account for at least one-third of the evaluation. Currently, superintendents are only mandated to reach performance targets if their school district receives a C, D or F grade. 

Rep. Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, supports the bill. 

“Yes, school districts can put in their own requirements for the superintendents, but we haven't, not widespread,” Carlson said. “And up until recently, we were one of the last states in the nation for education.” 

The state also needs to start putting the same emphasis on math and numeracy that it has on literacy in recent years, Carlson added. 

The Louisiana Association of Superintendents opposes Wyble's bill because its members want to make the math and English performance evaluations optional for school districts. 

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Louisiana lawmakers plan to give anti-abortion nonprofit exclusive state contract worth millions • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Julie O'Donoghue – 2024-04-16 05:01:06

Louisiana lawmakers plan to give anti-abortion nonprofit exclusive state contract worth millions

by Julie O'Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator
April 16, 2024

Louisiana legislators plan to give millions more in public money to anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers this year and to funnel all those dollars through a single nonprofit organization.

Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, wants money for the state's Alternatives to Abortion program, which supports the pregnancy centers, to jump from $1 million this cycle to between $3 million and $5 million next fiscal year, which starts July 1. McFarland is the head of the Louisiana House Appropriations Committee, which helps build the state's spending plan. 

McFarland and Sen. Katrina Jackson-Andrews, D-Monroe, are co-sponsoring legislation that would require all  Alternatives to Abortion money to go through a single, not-yet-chosen nonprofit organization before it reaches the pregnancy centers. 

The program would be rebranded as the Louisiana Pregnancy and Baby Initiative. It would prohibit funding from going to organizations that present abortion as an option for ending unplanned pregnancies. Instead, it would fund the anti-abortion pregnancy centers that offer parenting classes and baby supplies, including diapers and cribs. 

Jackson-Andrews, an anti-abortion Democrat, said services to help young parents are needed more than ever now that Louisiana has a strict abortion ban in place. The bill has been popular so far. The Louisiana Senate voted 34-3 in favor of it last month, and it's expected to pass the House as well. 

But the proposal has raised eyebrows for lacking transparency. Under the proposed changes, spending on the pregnancy centers and other anti-abortion programs might become more difficult to track publicly.

It's also not clear who would run the nonprofit slated to receive millions of dollars to manage the state's anti-abortion initiative. 

“We don't know who [the nonprofit] is yet or what it is, and we are going to give them this money to spend?” said Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria. “I don't want to see all this money go to one program, and they get to pick and choose who they like.” 

Interest from Texas operator  

Starting in August, the unnamed nonprofit would serve as the “general contractor” for the anti-abortion program, according to Senate Bill 278, even though the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has distributed money to anti-abortion pregnancy centers directly for years.

Jackson-Andrews, McFarland and others said they don't know which person or organization might bid on the work and get the contract, but the man who ran the Texas Pregnancy Care Network of anti-abortion pregnancy centers for 12 years appears to be interested in the work.

John McNamara has reserved the name Louisiana Pregnancy Care Network in the Louisiana Secretary of State business and nonprofit entity filing database until June 4, the day after the Louisiana Legislature's current law-making session ends. 

McNamara also testified in favor of Jackson-Andrews' legislation last month during a meeting of the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee but didn't mention he might be interested in running the nonprofit laid out in the bill. He could not be reached for comment over the past two weeks.

The Texas Pregnancy Care Network, where McNamara was executive director, went from an annual $4 million effort supporting about 30 anti-abortion pregnancy resource centers to a massive operation, with $50 million in annual public funding and 180 locations in recent years.  

“The program has been exceedingly successful,” McNamara told the Senate health committee last month. 

McNamara's former organization has some critics, however. Democratic lawmakers in Texas have complained there isn't much accountability regarding how the Texas Pregnancy Care Network spends the money it receives. There's also very little evidence that it's been effective at meeting its main goals, including preventing abortion, according to The Texas Tribune.

At least one high-profile scandal involving a San Antonio pregnancy center is also associated with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network. The center used public money to pay for a hemp farming operation, vape shop, spa treatments, airline tickets and a motorcycle instead of helping pregnant women, according to an investigation by KSAT-TV in San Antonio.

McNamara has also been involved in setting up similar anti-abortion umbrella organizations for pregnancy centers in other states. He helped establish the Oklahoma Pregnancy Care Network and Kansas Pregnancy Care Network, among others. 

In Oklahoma, the state health department questioned whether its pregnancy network was making good use of the public money it received. The agency concluded that less money had gone to services than anticipated, and a larger share had been spent on staff salaries.

Louisiana's legislation includes one transparency measure that would require the nonprofit overseeing its program to produce a report listing the number of people served with the funding and what particular services are offered. But the bill also limits the oversight of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Under the legislation, the state's child welfare agency would be barred from placing additional requirements on the anti-abortion centers or “prioritizing” one type of service over another for financial support.

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New funding source

Anti-abortion advocates are also pushing Louisiana lawmakers to switch up the funding source for pregnancy resource centers.

Louisiana has typically relied on federal money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grants to fund the pregnancy resource centers, but the leader of one center said the requirements to receive the funding have become onerous.

“Federal reporting requires a level of administrative work that has become more tedious and burdensome,” Kathleen Richard, executive director of Life Choices of North Central Louisiana, a pregnancy center in Ruston, said at the health committee hearing.

President Joe Biden's administration has also been scrutinizing the use of TANF money, which is supposed to be focused on helping low-income families, for alternatives to abortion. A new federal rule could make it difficult for the pregnancy centers to qualify for that type of funding moving forward. 

By using state funding, lawmakers could also require less transparency for the anti-abortion pregnancy center and the nonprofit that oversees them. More relaxed reporting requirements could mean less information about where the money is going and how it is being used.

Pregnancy resource centers have been under more scrutiny across the country over the past two years. 

Lift Louisiana, an abortion rights organization, released a report detailing the anti-abortion centers' shortcomings when it came to providing medical care with the public funding it received. Critics said the centers have misrepresented themselves as health care clinics, even though their staffs have little medical education. 

“These anti-abortion centers have opposed any attempts to hold them accountable for the millions of tax dollars they have received from the state,” said Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Life Louisiana. “This bill would shroud them in even more secrecy and insulate them from any oversight by the public.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Many trans Americans live in fear, but LGBTQ+ advocates see a reprieve in statehouses. • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Orion Rummler, The 19th – 2024-04-16 04:00:31

Many trans Americans live in fear, but LGBTQ+ advocates see a reprieve in statehouses.

by Orion Rummler, The 19th, Louisiana Illuminator
April 16, 2024

Getting a new doctor. Holding hands. Walking into a bar. Using a public bathroom. These everyday situations have become fear-inducing for over 60% of transgender Americans, according to new polling from the left-leaning firm Data for Progress.

Amid a growing effort by far-right politicians and conservative policy groups to curb LGBTQ+ rights — a movement built on targeting transgender people with hostile legislation and rhetoric — this hostility is taking its toll on trans Americans' sense of safety.

This report was originally published by The 19th. The Illuiminator is a member of The 19th News Network.

However, a political shift in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation may be under way. The Human Rights Campaign and several state advocacy groups believe the tide is turning against anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Florida and West Virginia ended their legislative sessions passing only a single bill each, and Georgia Republicans failed to pass any anti-LGBTQ+ bills this session. Kentucky is likely to be next on the list of states to block all of its anti-LGBTQ bills, as the state's general assembly did not advance any such legislation in time to meet its deadline for veto-proof bills.

Advocates in these states feel profound relief, and sense a possible return to legislative focus on other initiatives. Some advocates also say that, despite the clear difference between this year and last year in terms of the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being signed into law, they're not out of the woods yet.

“I'm cautiously optimistic,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky LGBTQ+ advocacy group. “This could be a return to where we were before the anti-trans rhetoric reached a fever pitch nationwide.”

Prior to 2022, Hartman said, Kentucky had not passed such a bill for almost a decade. But as Florida and Texas dominated the news cycle with anti-trans political attacks, that rhetoric spread to other Southern states — including his own.

Last year, Kentucky passed arguably the most extreme anti-trans law in the country. Within a single law, the state banned students of all ages from being taught about gender identity or sexual orientation, banned students from using restrooms that match their gender identity, banned gender-affirming care for trans youth and banned students up to the fifth grade from learning about human sexuality and development.

This year, the state passed zero anti-LGBTQ+ bills — which left Hartman in disbelief as the final gavel before veto recess in Kentucky's General Assembly fell in late March. This was an incredibly challenging legislative session, he said, and it felt like anti-LGBTQ+ legislation was on a swift trajectory as Republicans pushed to expand the state's religious freedom law, ban public drag performances and allow doctors to refuse treatment based on religious or moral grounds.

“It is a surprise to all of us, including me, that we have made it to the veto period of the legislative session without any of these anti-LGBTQ+ bills moving forward,” he said. Hartman was in the Kentucky House gallery until midnight on March 28 when legislators gaveled out, waiting to see whether any of the bills would get through.

“It was a nail-biter up to the very last minute … it wasn't until 11:30 p.m. that I was like, oh my gosh, we really are going to make it,” he said.

Louisiana House OKs transgender bathroom restrictions 

In Georgia, advocates were also fighting anti-LGBTQ+ bills until the final hours of the legislative session in late March. Ultimately, none of those bills passed or even made it to a vote in the Georgia House, despite Republican majorities in both chambers.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, was still at the state house at one in the morning on March 29 with around 25 to 30 people — the majority of whom were transgender Georgians and the parents of transgender kids. Many of them had been there all day long and were working intensely to meet with lawmakers, Graham said. After it was over, the relief and exhaustion in the group was palpable. They had just fought the largest number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills ever introduced in one legislative session in Georgia, Graham said.

In the last three weeks of Georgia's legislative session, Republicans started overhauling  unrelated bills — one on overdose remedies and another on student athletes' mental health —  in attempts to pass bathroom bans and bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Although adding amendments into unrelated legislation is fairly common practice among both political parties in the state, Graham saw the efforts as a sign that Republicans know they don't have broad public support for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation; particularly since such changes aren't always reflected in a bill's title or basic summary, and they were made without opportunities for public comment.

People march to the Texas State Capitol during a Queer March demonstration on April 15, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

“What it really does say to me is they know that these are not popular, and they're trying to do it without drawing a lot of attention to it,” he said.

Graham believes that, among the swing seats in the state House, some Republicans were concerned about having to take a vote on anti-LGBTQ+ bills and to be held accountable for their vote during the November elections. He also believes that emotional testimony from parents of transgender youth helped to move lawmakers on the issue and kept bills from advancing.

Meanwhile, in Florida, 21 out of 22 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were blocked this legislative session. Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, attributes that blockade in part to LGBTQ+ constituents visiting the state house week after week to explain the harm that the bills would cause. Those conversations played a large role in convincing lawmakers not to prioritize these bills, she said.

Last year, Florida enacted six anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law — more than the previous seven years combined, the Human Rights Campaign said at the time. Florida has also issued anti-LGBTQ+ policies through state agencies rather than the legislature, signaling that the state is willing to push anti-LGBTQ+ policies outside of the legislative process. Recent examples include a rule issued by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that prevents transgender people from updating their driver's license.

In Kentucky, Hartman saw a swell of support from Republican lawmakers in February, during a House judiciary committee meeting on the proposed bill to expand the state's religious freedom law. Six Republicans spoke up during the debate to express their support for protections against LGBTQ+ discrimination, he said — either by explicitly backing such protections or saying that they did not want to interfere with local city and county policies.

“Never before had that many sitting Republican legislators gone on the record, especially within 10 minutes, to say that they supported local LGBTQ+ discrimination protections,” he said. Some of the Republicans who spoke up already had supportive records, Hartman said, but others were a surprise.

Across the country, 59% of Republicans currently support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. That support among GOP voters decreased by seven percentage points from 2022 to 2023, as anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric ramped up among Republicans running for office and more anti-LGBTQ+ bills were passed.

Still, most Americans — including most religious Americans —  want LGBTQ+ people to be protected from discrimination, the poll found.

Republican lawmakers may finally be getting wind that anti-LGBTQ+ policies are not as popular as they believe them to be with their voters, advocates said. However, the anti-trans rhetoric fueling these laws has left transgender Americans afraid of being harassed by members of their own community.

Within the past year, 67% of transgender people have heard anti-LGBTQ+ remarks from family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors — and 39% have stopped speaking to a friend or family member that did not accept their LGBTQ+ identity, the Data for Progress poll found.

Around 870 LGBTQ+ adults took the online Data for Progress survey from March 8-14, 2024. That sample was weighted to be representative of the adult LGBTQ+ community by age, gender, education and race through the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey data. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.

Overall, transgender adults in the survey reported having more negative experiences in the past year than queer cisgender adults; they experienced more harassment online and in-person, and more trans people were discriminated against on the basis of their LGBTQ+ identity. Over a third of all LGBTQ+ adults said that they believed the quality of life for LGBTQ+ Americans in the past year has gotten worse.

Black LGBTQ+ youth need spaces that embrace them fully, researchers say

Kirby Phares, senior analyst at Data for Progress, was struck by how many transgender people said they are unable to, or afraid to, access health care in the current political environment.

Nearly a quarter of transgender people — 24% — said that their access to gender-affirming medical care has been interrupted or discontinued in the past year as a result of anti-trans policies, while 54% said that it is currently difficult for them to access gender-affirming medical care in general. Twenty percent of trans people did not feel safe going to the doctor or hospital when they were sick or injured out of fear of mistreatment.

LGBTQ+ Americans' mental health is also suffering in the current political climate, the Data for Progress poll found — especially for transgender Americans. More than half of LGBTQ+ adults, including 79% of trans adults, said that recent anti-LGBTQ+ policies and rhetoric have negatively impacted their mental health.

Even with the slowdown in places like Florida and Georgia, over a dozen anti-LGBTQ+ bills have passed out of state houses this year — the ACLU counts 16, while the Trans Legislation Tracker counts 21. Advocacy groups update their legislation trackers at different times, and categorize bills differently, which can cause discrepancies between their bill tallies. Thirteen of those anti-LGBTQ+ bills that passed have been signed into law so far, per the Trans Legislation Tracker.

Several of the bills restrict funding for gender-affirming care for transgender adults, ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, and create religious exemptions for LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination laws for employers and businesses. Others prevent trans students from using school restrooms and prohibit classroom discussions of LGBTQ+ issues.

Roughly 180 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are still advancing through state legislatures, according to the ACLU.

“We don't know what will happen in all of those. We're not out of the woods yet,” Graham said. “I think many of these bills will be back in 2025.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Trump makes one last presidential immunity argument to the U.S. Supreme Court • Louisiana Illuminator

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lailluminator.com – Jacob Fischler – 2024-04-15 19:06:10

Trump makes one last presidential immunity argument to the U.S. Supreme Court

by Jacob Fischler, Louisiana Illuminator
April 15, 2024

Hours after Donald Trump sat in a New York courtroom and became the first former president in U.S. history to be a defendant in a criminal trial Monday, his attorneys filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court renewing his claim of absolute presidential immunity in another criminal case against him.

In a reply brief responding to Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith's argument last week that former presidents should not be immune from criminal prosecution, Trump's attorneys, led by D. John Sauer of St. Louis, repeated their claim that the framers of the Constitution intended presidents to be immune from prosecution unless they were first impeached and removed from office.

Smith argued last week that because impeachment was inherently political, former presidents must be legally accountable under a separate, apolitical process in courts. Calling Trump's argument “a radical departure from democracy,” Smith said the absolute immunity standard would place the president above the law.

Impeachment was insufficient on its own, Smith said, because a president may escape conviction in the U.S. Senate simply because of the partisan makeup of that chamber.

But Trump's attorneys said Monday that Smith's argument missed the point of impeachment as a check and balance on executive power. The process is intended to be political, and difficult to achieve, they wrote.

“That is the point,” they wrote. “The Framers required a nationwide political consensus — reflected in a two-thirds vote of the Senate — before authorizing the potentially Republic-shattering act of prosecuting a President for his official acts.”

The Supreme Court case is part of a pretrial effort by Trump's attorneys to dismiss a federal criminal case accusing him of pressuring state officials, the Justice Department and then-Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results, then allowing a mob of supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol.

Trump, who is again the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has claimed “absolute immunity” from prosecution for his role, saying it was part of his official duties to guard against election fraud.

Trump and his allies brought dozens of suits alleging election fraud, but presented no evidence that fraud had virtually any impact on the 2020 results.

Trump won acquittal in a 2021 Senate trial for the same actions he's accused of in the underlying federal criminal case when only seven of the 50 GOP senators at the time voted with all Democrats for conviction. Two-thirds of the Senate must vote to impeach.

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‘Malfeasance may go unpunished' 

The framers of the Constitution wanted a strong executive and were willing to trade some criminal accountability of the president to gain it, Trump's attorneys wrote Monday. The system of impeachment was part of that goal, they said.

“When the Framers erected the formidable hurdle of impeachment and conviction, they assumed the risk that some Presidential misfeasance might go unpunished,” they wrote.

Presidents are subject to common prosecution for private acts, Trump's attorneys wrote, but can only be prosecuted for official acts through impeachment.

Trump has long contended his actions on and leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, seeking to block the certification of his election loss in November 2020 should be considered official acts.

Trump's legal team also said Monday that federal criminal courts, with judges appointed and confirmed by the elected branches of government, were not apolitical alternatives to impeachment, as Smith suggested.

They referred to three other criminal charges the former president faces, which they said were “hyper-politicized.”

“In light of not one, but four, hyper-politicized prosecutions pending against President Trump — in addition to politically motivated civil cases — this argument cannot be taken seriously,” they wrote.

Trump on trial: Former president faces criminal charges of falsifying business records

The brief came on the first day of the first criminal case against Trump to go to trial. That case, in New York state, alleges Trump falsified business records to hide hush money payments made to an adult film star during his first run for the White House in 2016.

He is also accused in Georgia state court of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results in that state.

And a federal grand jury in South Florida indicted him for mishandling and storing in unsecured areas classified documents from his time in office.

Trump has sought to employ the criminal allegations to his political advantage, using them to reinforce his message that he is being targeted by a corrupt system.

Oral arguments soon

The Trump team's reply brief was the last from either party before oral arguments, scheduled for April 25.

Trump will not be at the Supreme Court for the arguments, as he will be expected at his trial in New York. Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing that case, denied Trump's requested absence that day to attend the Supreme Court hearing, according to reports.

The case arrived at the Supreme Court after the trial judge in the case, Tanya Chutkan, a federal judge for the District of Columbia, in December rejected Trump's motion to dismiss the charges under the presidential immunity argument.

Trump appealed that ruling, but a unanimous federal appeals court upheld Chutkan's decision in February.

The trial has been on hold while the appeal on the immunity claim is pending.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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