Education takes priority in governor’s proposed $32 billion state budget

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed state budget Friday at a hearing in the Capitol.(Photo Credit: Elizabeth Garner)

Published: February 8, 2020

By: Hailey Auglair and Evan Saacks, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed a $32 billion state budget Friday focusing on education as a high priority, with increases in funding for early childhood, K-12 and higher education, including TOPS scholarships.

The budget, for the 2020-2021 fiscal year beginning July 1, was presented by Jay Dardenne, the commissioner of administration, to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. It marks the beginning of negotiations that will play out in the legislative session starting in March.

The governor proposed increasing spending by nearly $285 million overall. But lawmakers will not be asked to raise any taxes this year, Dardenne said.

“This increase to higher education is a very significant investment,” Dardenne said.

It would increase early childhood funding by more than $25 million and higher education by nearly $35 million. It also would boost the money for TOPS scholarships by $5.56 million as more students have become eligible.

However, these increases are dependent on about $100 million in funding that is not currently available because Edwards, a Democrat, and the new Republican leaders, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, have not been able to reach agreement on an official estimate of what the state’s revenue. The Republicans proposed using a lower forecast than Edwards.

As a result, Dardenne said the administration viewed its proposal as a starting point for negotiations.

Despite Edwards’ promises for teacher pay raises during his re-election campaign, there is no funding explicitly allocated for them. Dardenne said the K-12 could use some of the increased funding for pay raises, but it would be up to local districts to decide what to do.

The proposed funding for higher education is still not as high it was nearly a decade ago, but the total has been steadily hiking back up since 2016 when the state faced an overall $2 billion budget shortfall.

Edwards’ proposal includes a $10.9 million increase next year in statewide adjustments to fund mandated costs, like retirement benefits for university staff.

Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said this increase would greatly benefit smaller schools that have struggled to pay these costs.

“This is the No. 1 budget problem at Nicholls State University, McNeese State and a lot of these smaller universities,” Allain said. “We’re actually paying more in mandatory costs back to the state than we’re getting. The argument’s been made we’d be better off separated from the state.”

Read more at the Shreveport Times.

River flood issue discussed at Iowa caucus

Many homes in Hamburg, Iowa remain unsafe to occupy, with the spring's major flooding posing risks of abrasions, food contaminations and mold exposure. (Photo credit: Olivia Sun/ Des Moines Register)

Published: February 5, 2020

By: Rachel Mipro, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—The Quad City River Bandits had an impossible time drawing a crowd opening night last spring. Its minor league ballpark was surrounded by water two-stories high after the Mississippi River overran its banks and flooded downtown Davenport. With flooded streets and walkways, the team was forced to play elsewhere in Iowa and gave up nearly two dozen home games.

But the team was not alone. Many areas across Iowa, which is bordered by the Missouri River in the West and the Mississippi in the East, had been rendered unusable by rising waters.

Days before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, infrastructure and flooding are a top concern for Iowans, especially after 50 Iowa levees were breached in 2019, and the outlook for this spring is not much better.

In Davenport, the third-largest city in Iowa, nothing prevents the Mississippi River from sweeping in. There are no permanent flood walls or levees guarding the water and no firm plans in place, even after the April flooding, to build some. Water infrastructure is lacking, leaving citizens scrambling for support against worsening environmental conditions.

Standing outside in line for presidential candidate and businessman Andrew Yang’s event in Perry, landscape architect-in-training Natalie Jensen talked about her experience with flooding. Jensen, who’s worked at the firm Confluence since her graduation from Iowa State University, said that they are designing around flood risk like using permeable pavers and porous materials to reduce standing water.

“Des Moines especially has been more aware of it,′ Jensen said. “Omaha, Nebraska, has been very affected by it. It totally tore out a part of the interstate highway,” she said.

Jensen said her uncles and cousins who are farmers, lost significant portions of their crops, and are being careful where they will plant now to avoid a chance of flooding.

According to the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, there are several initiatives aimed at reducing flooding. One of these is the Iowa Watershed Approach, which focuses on nine district watersheds in Iowa. Each site, from the Upper Iowa River to North Racoon River, will develop their own hydrologic assessment, watershed plan and flood resilience programs.

The ultimate goal is to use the information to create a wider plan for Iowa, its neighboring states and other communities affected by flooding.

At a national level, politicians from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to Sen. Bernie Sanders the independent of Vermont, have spoken on these issues in Iowa, reiterating their support for the Green New Deal and rebuilding infrastructure in an attempt to reach voters.

Read more at Plaquemine Post South.

Joe Biden’s Iowa campaign ‘consistent’ but uneven, supporters say

(Photo Credit: WWLTV)

Published: February 3, 2020

ByLara Nicholson, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Just as on the national debate stage, Joe Biden’s campaign appearances in Iowa can be uneven. He can exude experience and expertise. He can appeal to America’s best instincts. Or he can also get lost in his long-winded answers that can wander on and extinguish whatever excitement he and his crowds can muster.

With caucus night on Monday, Feb. 3, the former vice president has had Iowa much to himself since the Senate impeachment trial tied up Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. But how well Biden has capitalized on the moment is as unpredictable as his rally performances.

Just how unpredictable can a veteran campaigner be? In early January, as Biden was gearing up for a month of Iowa campaigning, Biden showed his two sides. One was the knowledgeable former vice president and senator; the other was a tired, aging politician who didn’t bring much passion to the stage and generated even less among a sleepy crowd.

The long-winded Biden showed up several weeks ago at what became a dismal performance in a Des Moines elementary school gym. At a rally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. — late by Iowa standards — he showed up nearly two hours late to a crowd that was literally standing around, mostly without chairs, boxed in by hard, bright white gym walls, few windows and little room to breathe.

Without apology, Biden plowed ahead with a 20-minute speech, covering everything from the values his grandfather taught him to a superficial, three-soundbite plan to fix the country: restore the soul of the nation, rebuild the middle class and reunite the country.

“Putting America first means putting America last,” Biden said on more than once.

Each topic faded into the next, with no punchline for voters to take away.

Then came the questions, of which he managed to take only three before the evening ran past 10 p.m..

The first question was straightforward regarding the vaping epidemic in the country, and Biden took only two minutes to answer.

The next was slightly more involved regarding the Gulf War and Osama Bin Laden. For that he placed all fault on former President George W. Bush in a quick six minutes to answer.

“We will follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell if we have to,” he quoted Obama’s staff as saying.

The final question was from a 14-year-old boy who wanted to know how Biden would create more equality in education.

That answer lasted for 11 minutes, in which Biden vowed to fire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, address mental health care in schools and provide free degrees from community colleges before ending with what Biden described as the rise of a fourth industrial revolution. Each topic was freighted with statistics, quickly causing some attendees to lose interest and even doze off.

“Early education is a kite string that lifts our national ambition,” he said along the way.


What I saw at a Trump Rally: an LSU journalism prof’s impressions

Election 2020 Trump (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Published: February 3, 2020

By: Will Mari

DES MOINES, Iowa — “Do you want some of my beef jerky?” asked the man, a producer for Vice Media.

The risers were shaking in the indoor stadium at Drake University, as we waited for the arrival of President Trump at the Knapp Center on a cold Thursday night ahead of the Monday caucuses in Iowa. The salty smell of popcorn and hotdogs from the concession stands was wafting into one of two designated press areas, and I had said aloud that I was hungry.

I told him no thank you, but appreciated the offer—I had heard from friends and other colleagues that the experience of attending a Trump rally could be challenging for reporters, but I went back to my note taking feeling more assured.

A few minutes later, an alumna from our program came over to say hello—she had noticed my purple LSU hoodie poking out from under my blue sports coat. We talked for a few moments.

I explained I was there to work on a research project on how journalists pick their sources. She gave me her card and some tips, and wished me luck. I must have looked a little nervous. I had covered political rallies before, but this felt different.

Below, Jeff Kaufmann, the state’s GOP party chairman, was firing up the crowd. They roared their approval.

Kauffmann, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, referred to himself as “Dr. Deplorable” — he’s taught history and government at Muscatine Community College. My ears perked up a bit at that—I had gone to a community college, too, and could identify with being told I wasn’t capable, or smart.

A source once told me to my face that my stutter meant that I’d never work in journalism.

Like Kauffman, I come from a military family — and I have served in the military (though I should note here that my opinions are my own). Like Kauffman, I am an academic, working an assistant professor of media law and history at the Manship School at LSU.

After he left the stage, the strains of “Norma Jean,” “The House of the Rising Sun” and “YMCA” blasted the arena, as my fellow media types prepped their cameras and typed up stories, taken from interviews in the milling crowd below, more than 7,000 strong.

When Vice President Pence arrived, I made my way down to the floor, and found an awkward spot among a sea of tripods and microphones in the other media “pen.”

Even as senators back in Washington, D.C., were debating the admission of witnesses and still in the midst of questions for his impeachment trial, the President came on. The crowd’s rumble grew to a crescendo. That, combined with the supercharged soft rock, shook my worse-for-the-wear portable keyboard, its “5” key long since broken.


Is fertilizer runoff in central US causing Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’?


Published: January 17, 2020

By: Sarah Procopio and Rachel Mipro, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Tom Rendon came here to a Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign event and handed out stickers that said, “Water is Life.”

Rendon has been a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement for over 20 years. The group works on immigration, trade and environmental issues including pollution from large farms that the group believes contaminates the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

For Rendon, the hypoxic waters, or “dead zone” problem at the mouth of the Mississippi, is caused mostly by corporate farming and runoff of nitrate fertilizer in Iowa and other states. His hope is that Sanders, the Vermont independent, will have the vision as president to address complex agricultural and environmental problems.

Six months ago, the dead zone was about the size of Massachusetts. Its waters have little or no oxygen and it is killing fish and other organisms, endangering the livelihoods of those who depend on the Gulf’s seafood.

Adam Mason, state policy director for the Iowa citizens group, said it worked with a lot of communities to stop construction of “factory farms” and combat the pollution he says they produce. According to Mason, Iowa is No. 1 in U.S. hog production with more than 26 million hogs generating over 22 billion gallons of liquid manure that’s dumped untreated onto Iowa farm fields and can runoff into waterways.

“This liquid manure, in addition to having lots of harmful bacteria, has nitrates and phosphorus, so we see that as a significant contribution to both the water crisis we have here in the state of Iowa as well as the dead zone,” Mason said.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association believes there is no science to support the claim that pork farming has any relation to the dead zone in the Gulf, according to Dal Grooms, the communications director.

But in 2018, a group of university studies collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributed the dead zone to nutrient pollution. One study, by the University of Michigan, concluded that “the Gulf’s hypoxic zone is caused by excess nutrient pollution, primarily from human activities in the watershed, such as urbanization and agriculture,” it said in a statement.

University of Iowa researchers concluded that Iowa was responsible for a large portion of nitrate pollution using data collected from 1999-2016.

The study said Iowa contributed “between 11% and 52% of the long-term nitrate load to the Mississippi-Atchafalaya Basin, 20% to 63% to the Upper Mississippi River Basin, and 20% to 89% to the Missouri River Basin, with averages of 29%, 45% and 55%, respectively.”

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.

Watch: Presidential candidates say ‘Geaux Tigers’ while on campaign trail in Iowa

(Video Credit: Alyssa Panepinto)

Published: January 11, 2020

By: Lara Nicholson and Abigail Hendren, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Most college students spend their winter vacations enjoying a reprieve from classes and work.

But about 30 Louisiana State students and faculty invaded Iowa, crisscrossing 1,500 miles to see Democratic presidential candidates campaign before the February 3 caucus.

Still, the national college football playoff, slated for Monday night in New Orleans, was never out of mind. LSU students weren’t shy about asking several candidates for a “Geaux Tigers!” cheer.

Even Joe Biden, whose daughter went to nearby Tulane University, did what it takes to win over LSU Tiger fans.

“I’m going to get in trouble,” the former vice president grumbled.

“No, you’ve got to do it,” an LSU student insisted.

“Alright. Geaux Tigers!” he said, somewhere between a mutter and a shout.

Read more at The Advocate.

Candidate ‘quirks’ help them stand out ahead of Iowa caucus


Published: January 10, 2020

By: Allison Kadlubar, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—Presidential candidates flock here months before the Democratic caucus to gain attention and to get Iowans to stand in their corner on caucus night Feb. 3.

TV ads flood commercial breaks; T-shirts and buttons are given out or sold at most events. But lesser-known candidates need more to stand out.

Andrew Yang, a tech and education entrepreneur who trails in the polls, offers hats, beanies and pins emblazoned with “MATH.” meaning, “Make America Think Again.” He also hands out copies of his book, “The War on Normal People,” to explain the economic disruption from technology and automation he talks endlessly about.

Tom Steyer’s hedge-fund billionaire status makes him a curiosity in unflashy Iowa and his ubiquitous plaid tie and colorfully-woven fabric-and-leather belt helps him stand out a little more. The green-and-red plaid is like a logo he wears to events and debates. He includes it on free koozies and even on the back of his campaign bus.

Pete Buttigieg, who just finished eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, offers “Boot Edge Edge,” stickers to help voters pronounce his name.

Many Iowans are accustomed to questioning candidates as well as shaking hands.  Selfies began appearing four years ago. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts takes them to a new level. In her carefully-planned selfie assembly line, lines form, Warren stays put and grins, a volunteer takes coats and purses and sets up the picture. Warren shook the hand of each person and told them, “I’m so happy that you came,” or “it was so nice to meet you.” When it’s over, aides zoom in with the crucial question: “Are you ready to caucus for Senator Warren?”

Knowing that politicians are chronically late, Sen. Warren, who makes a point of mentioning she is a mom and a former elementary school teacher, offers coloring pages and markers to occupy children. One little girl sitting on the floor of a rally in Davenport, Iowa, scrawled “Go Warren” with her Crayons, while her mom listened to the candidate.

Sen. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, gives each attendee a front-facing camera selfie and takes questions or listens to ideas. After a conversation with an elderly woman at a coffee shop event in Creston, Iowa, he leaned in, gave her a hug and said, “Thank you for coming.” She looked up at him with a gleaming smile.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.