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Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019

Why Send Kids South?

Support higher education in your own community


Loyalty is an essential quality in any close relationship. It’s a strong assurance from another of their feelings of support or allegiance, whether it be in business, in a family, or in friendships. And not because they have to – but because they want to. Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” That’s good advice, indeed.

And being loyal is more than just doing what is expected of you, or that you’re obligated to do. Being loyal means stepping up for someone, or speaking out, whether they asked you or not, or whether they would ever know, otherwise.

So when many folks learned about Mayor Perkins announcing a “partnership” with the University of New Orleans (“UNO”) for an “instant admit program,” whereby students who graduate from a Caddo Parish public high school (and meet straightforward grade point average and ACT requirements) are guaranteed admission to UNO, it was confusing. Where was the loyalty to our local universities, such as LSU Shreveport or Southern University, or a half-dozen other institutions for higher learning, right here at home?

I mean, why would elected officials in Shreveport, from Mayor Perkins to Caddo Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree, purposefully set-up a conduit for Caddo Parish high school students to leave Shreveport, and travel over 300 miles to New Orleans, when they graduate high school? Again, it begs the question, why are we not first promoting our universities here at home?

Why are we not first supporting these professors and the groundskeepers, the support staff and the students alike, of these many universities here? They’ve all made a home in Shreveport, they eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, volunteer their time to worthy causes, coach Little League, pay taxes upon taxes, and yet both our city and the school system is advertising to go all the way to New Orleans for a “product” that we make right here at home?

Now Mayor Perkins explains away his excitement about this partnership with UNO by saying, “It guarantees Shreveport’s college-ready students access to one of Louisiana’s premier universities. When they come back to Shreveport, they will be bringing knowledge, talents and experience that enrich our economy and our culture.”

This, unfortunately, however, just isn’t so. You see, Shreveport’s college-ready students already have guaranteed access – to not just one – but several of Louisiana’s premier universities and they’re virtually right around the corner from one another.

Not only that, but the suggestion these students will be coming back to Shreveport is dubious, as well. The odds of that happening are about the same as flipping a coin and choosing “heads” or “tails.” This is because the retention rate in New Orleans, for university graduates from there, is almost 50% and that means half of our Caddo Parish students graduating from UNO won’t ever come back.

But the real issue – the real problem – for Caddo Parish students isn’t so much access to quality higher education in another area code, like New Orleans. No, it’s that 25 of the 63 public schools in Caddo Parish received an “F” letter grade last year — which was an increase from 14 Caddo Parish schools that received an “F” letter grade in 2017,  all courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Education.

This is most of what is ailing Shreveport. Instead of giving our children bus tickets to get out of town on the day they graduate from high school, or pretending that access to college is what’s keeping Caddo Parish students at a disadvantage, we ought to be addressing the issue – not changing the subject with a press conference at City Hall that amounts to no more than a distraction, and to no less than a waste of time.

With more than 1/3 of our schools in Caddo Parish failing, we cannot possibly enrich our economy or our culture this way. Did you know that raising our high school graduation rate to 90% would increase home sales by $8.8 million in Shreveport? Or that it would increase local consumer spending by $4.2 million? That it would increase tax revenue by $250,000. Or that it would reduce Medicaid expenses to the state budget by $10.8 million, and improve our gross domestic product by $7.5 million?

And not just for one year, but for every year, that we can maintain such graduation rates in our city – and that’s even before Mayor Perkins or Dr. Goree sends our kids off to UNO.

So, let’s address the real issue and be loyal to the mission of our public schools and those that call Shreveport home, and less so to the politics of press conferences.


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