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John Kennedy's Blog

Category Archives: Education Reform

I'm Running for U.S. Senate

Today, State Treasurer John Kennedy issued the following statement:

“I will be a candidate for the United States Senate in 2016.

The reason is pretty simple:  I want my country back.   I'm scared we are losing it.  

My Dad and Mom were conservative people.  Dad was a small businessman. He owned a little lumberyard.  Mom was a retired schoolteacher.  They taught me conservative values:  God, country, family, discipline, hard work and education.  They taught me to always do the best I can.  I worry that America is losing those values.

Here's what I see:   too many undeserving people at the top getting bailouts and too many undeserving people at the bottom getting handouts.  And we in the middle get the bill.  So will our kids.  It's not right.

The sad truth is that our children's generation is at risk of becoming the first in America to be worse off than their parents', because it's harder than ever to get ahead and easier than ever to do nothing. 

I want more for my country and my state. 

I want a country that respects taxpayer dollars.  I'm sick of the waste, and I'm sick of the debt. 

I want an America and a Louisiana where every person can get a decent job.  You can't be for jobs if you are against business.  To create jobs, our businesses need low taxes, sensible regulations, good infrastructure and a skilled workforce. 

I want an America and a Louisiana in which no parents have to send their child to a failing school.

I want an America and a Louisiana where parents can take their sick child to a family doctor instead of to an emergency room because they have decent, affordable insurance of their own choosing from the private sector. 

I want a country that is strong and therefore free, that values peace but is not afraid to fight back.  America is the most powerful country in the history of the world.  We need to start acting like it.  

I want an America and a Louisiana that understand that free market capitalism has done more to lift people out of poverty than all the government programs put together.  Welfare was meant to be a bridge, not a parking lot.

I want a country and a state that protect life – whether that life is 82 years old or 82 seconds. 

Most Louisianians know me and what I stand for.  As State Treasurer, I've balanced 16 department budgets, earned taxpayers $3.4 billion by investing their money wisely,  returned $315 million in lost money to citizens, refused to join the state retirement system, fought against corruption and cronyism,  and stood up to politicians more powerful than I am in both parties.

I try not to be rude, but I speak my mind.  Some politicians call me a troublemaker, a misfit, a rebel, a square peg in a round hole, because I'm not part of the club.  I think I make the right people mad.  My job is to protect taxpayers, not seek the approval of my political peers.

I hope voters will give me a chance to do the same thing in the United States Senate.  I believe our country and our state can be better than our present, and our past. 

May God bless us and keep us, and make his face shine upon us, Louisiana and the United States of America.”

Education Reform: Past is Prologue

Governor Jindal is right to try to fix our public schools. His proposal to put the best teacher in every classroom by changing the way we hire, fire, promote and pay teachers is critical.

We need a teacher evaluation system that looks like somebody designed it on purpose. Only a handful of public officials are still around who were serving in 1989 when Governor Roemer made the last attempt to reform our system. I'm one of them, and I remember the venom, the bitterness and the divisiveness of those days. Roemer's legislation ended up before the Louisiana Supreme Court (I helped argue the case), which ultimately ruled in his favor, but the causalities were high, and it undermined the program's success.

We learned a few lessons from that experience that might be helpful now as the debate begins over Governor Jindal's attempt.

The first lesson we learned was that teacher quality is one of the few ingredients of good public schools that government can control. Parental involvement is also important, but it's hard, if not impossible, for government to involve parents in their kid's education if they are unable or don't want to. Data indicates that 49% of Louisiana's children will be born  into a single parent family this year, leaving them much more at risk to growing up poor, undereducated, underemployed or in jail. Of course, some of these kids can, and will, mature into productive citizens because of the Herculean efforts of their parent, but the odds are against them from birth, and just about everything government has tried to better those odds has failed. The moral of the story is to concentrate on what you can control:  teacher quality.

The second lesson we learned was to consult and listen to the teachers and principals in designing a teacher evaluation program. The teachers and principals in every single public school in Louisiana know who among their peers is doing a good job and who is not. Design a system to harness their input and knowledge and it will succeed. I'm not saying that what politicians, good government groups, civic leaders, school boards and teacher organizations think doesn't matter.  Most of these groups care deeply about elementary and secondary education, and deserve a seat at the table.  But at the end of the day, if the rank and file teachers and principals don't buy into the new evaluation system-if they don't think it is fair-it is destined to fail, no matter how many bills the Legislature passes.

The final lesson we learned from the teacher evaluation effort in 1989 was to be careful what you say.  Teacher quality is a subject steeped in emotions-anger, fear, pride. It is a subject about which people feel passionately (a good thing) and about which reasonable folks disagree. Name calling, demeaning remarks, incendiary words and sweeping generalizations that don't respect the nuances of the political and socioeconomic factors that contributed to the deterioration of public education in America are not helpful. Think before you speak.

Louisiana has the rare opportunity to lead this country in developing ideas that lift up the teaching profession, change the lives of our children, and help Louisiana have a brighter future. Lessons learned from the past can help us succeed.

Originally featured at www.LATreasury.com

My Letter to Governor Jindal

Dear Governor Jindal:

Respectfully, please stop scaring our health-care and higher education communities over the changes made to HB 1 by a majority vote of the Louisiana House of Representatives. It is not necessary to make the draconian reductions to the healthcare and higher education budgets you and your staff have suggested in order to achieve the fiscally responsible goals of the House.

In January 2008, the state had a $1 billion budget surplus. One year later, we suffered our first mid-year budget shortfall ($341 million). The overspending has continued every year. A majority of the House of Representatives is trying to stem this tide and return some stability to state finances.

The House has reduced the proposed $25.5 billion budget by $267 million in order to balance it in a responsible way. You can achieve those savings (the figures below are very conservative) without adversely impacting healthcare and higher education by doing the following:

  1. Do not fill vacancies in the states labor force. Louisiana state government does not have control of its cost of labor. We spend $5 billion a year on salaries, $8 billion with benefits. In the last 6 years and 9 months, we have reduced the number of state government positions by 6,900 (a little over 1% per year), while increasing the cost of labor by $650 million a year, including salaries, "other pay" (overtime, shift differential pay and incentive pay) and benefits, according to a February 2012 report by the Legislative Auditor. As you are aware, we have a large attrition rate in our labor force, around 16% according to the Department of Civil Service. Our goal should be to not fill a third of the vacancies next fiscal year, while giving the departments of state government the discretion to fill two-thirds. Done correctly, this will not impact state services. Minimum annual savings: $75 million.
  2. Require the executive branch departments to reorganize. They are top heavy. They have too many generals and not enough foot soldiers. Another Legislative Auditor report concludes that 22% of all the managers in classified service manage one employee. The average manager manages 4 employees. Adopt the recommendations of the SECURE study (Select Council on Revenues and Expenditures in Louisiana's Future) to limit layers of management to 4 or 5 with a maximum of 6 for large departments, allocate one manager per 10 staff, limit clerical staff to 15% or less of total staff, and consolidate units of government with 2-5 staff into larger, more efficient units taking care to consolidate regional and central headquarter administration where possible. Minimum annual savings: See No. 1 above.
  3. Review every consulting contract issued by the executive branch and eliminate lower priority contract expenditures. We have, or have had, consulting contracts to analyze how our kids play at recess, encourage Hispanic citizens in Rapides Parish to use seatbelts, provide diversity training to GOHSEP supervisors, teach people how to use Facebook, give speeches to groups of senior citizens about problem gambling, lobby the legislature, recruit disadvantaged business enterprises to do business with DOTD, draft legislation, provide data to parents to support "informed school choice decisions," and create "sustainable relationships" with professional teacher unions. These and many other consulting contracts are not priorities. Eliminate them. For those contracts you decide to keep, ask for a 5% reduction in the contract value, as the private sector does every day during difficult economic times. Minimum annual savings: $100 million.
  4. Collect the money owed the state. The most current state accounts receivables report is nine months old. It shows that the taxpayers of Louisiana are owed $1.3 billion, 55% of which is 6 months past due. It is clear that management of accounts receivable is not a state priority. It should be. Use centralized collection, automated notices, tax refund offsets and factoring of accounts receivable to collect money owed the state. Minimum annual savings: $50 million.
  5. Implement Louisiana law (LRS 22:1065, LaHipp) that allows the state to purchase private insurance for low income citizens when it's cheaper than Medicaid. The current vendor the state is using to do this, a Dallas company, uses automated phone messages and other less aggressive approaches. Make this a priority. Minimum annual savings: $50 million.
  6. Reform the state's Medicaid preferred pharmaceutical drug list to include the most effective drugs at the lowest price for each illness. Minimum annual savings: $50 million.
  7. Direct that annual spending per secure commitment in the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice be equal to the Southern average. Louisiana has 508 juveniles in secure facilities. We spend $115,000 per youth ($141,000 annually, according to the Justice Policy Institute). Florida spends $70,000, Alabama $85,000 and Arkansas $34,000. Minimum annual savings: $26 million.
  8. As a condition of their contracts, require all state vendors and contractors to receive a tax clearance from the Department of Revenue certifying that their state taxes have been paid, and authorize the state to offset any future tax liabilities against contract payments owed the vendor or contractor. Minimum annual savings: $15 million.
  9. Competitively bid more state contracts for maintenance of state-owned computer hardware and software. State law currently allows agencies to award these maintenance contracts without competitive bid to the companies (like IBM) from which the agency originally purchased the hardware or software if the agency deems the hardware or software to be "mission critical." Minimum annual savings: $5 million.
  10. Direct DHH to require all 10 of Louisiana's Charity Hospitals to implement immediately the recommendations of the 2009 performance audit by Alvarez & Marsal of the interim Big Charity in New Orleans, which found $72 million in savings at Big Charity alone. Minimum annual savings: $25 million.

These reforms, which can be implemented next fiscal year, will easily save more than the $267 million reduced in HB 1 by the House without hurting healthcare or higher education.

While I disagree with your current approach to balancing the budget, you are, of course, correct that the monies that fund health care and higher education in our state budget are not dedicated. This is why health care and higher education so easily and so often become "whipping boys."

To solve this problem permanently, I encourage you, beginning immediately after the legislative session and for a six-month period, to appoint a group of public officials and private-sector business leaders to review every statutory dedication, tax exemption, tax exclusion, tax rebate and tax credit in state government. Some, of course, can and should be kept, but others that are no longer achieving the public policy for which they are intended can be eliminated.

After this six-month transparent and public review, call a special session of the Legislature to make the necessary changes in these dedications and the state's tax code. I believe these changes could be effected in a two- to three-week special session. It would be well worth the cost. We will not need to change the Constitution. This will free up money for health-care and higher education and other vital state needs.

Please, give this letter careful consideration. I mean no disrespect in writing it. We can reduce state spending, balance the budget responsibly, and address our long term fiscal problems without hurting or needlessly frightening the citizens in our health-care delivery system or our colleges and universities.

Thank you for your time, and thank you for giving so much to Louisiana.

Sincerely,

John Kennedy
State Treasurer

Previously published at www.thetowntalk.com

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