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Louisiana's top school board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to shelve public school letter grades for the 2020-21 school year.

A state that can afford to pay LSU’s football coach $9 million a year — and then $17 million to get rid of him — ought to be able to afford to have LSU make the top 500 in 2022 Best College and University Rankings by WalletHub. But it doesn’t.

To determine the top-performing schools at the lowest possible costs to undergraduates, WalletHub compared more than 1,000 higher-education institutions in the US across 30 key measures. The metrics range from student-faculty ratio to graduation rate to post-attendance median salary.

Only four universities in Louisiana made the top 500: Tulane (68), Louisiana Tech (281), McNeese (358), and Loyola (369). If you don’t like WalletHub’s rankings, the latest US News and World Report ranking of national universities listed our flagship public university, LSU, dropping 19 places to 172nd, second to last in the SEC. Feel better?

If the overall competitive performance of Louisiana’s colleges doesn’t bother your thinking about the state’s economic future, consider how underperforming Louisiana’s high schools are on a national test of college readiness. The exam is called ACT and measured 2021 skills in English, reading, math, and science.

As reported by Will Sentell in this newspaper, Louisiana’s score fell for the fourth year in a row. The state’s composite score is 18.4, down from 18.7 last year out of a possible 36. Only Mississippi, Nevada, and Hawaii scored lower. The average nationally is 20.3, which dropped from 20.6 last year and is the lowest score in more than a decade.

In Louisiana, 98% of high school seniors took the ACT, which is among the highest participation rates in the nation. Relatively few states require all students to take the ACT. But only 20% of our children met national benchmarks in math, 23% in science, 31% in reading, and 48% in English.

Most Louisiana politicians running for office, any office, pledge to improve education because they know that’s what you want to hear. But the numbers prove that they haven’t kept their promises.

The governor, legislators, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members and local school board members are counting on you not to remember their pledges because they have all failed.

They will have pandemic and hurricane excuses as well as flowery words for improvements during their next campaigns. But look at the results for the billions of tax dollars spent. Pitiful.

Louisiana has to be competitive for employers to want to come here or decide to expand here rather than at another of their locations. A significant component of that decision-making formula is education. The better the education, the better our chances to attract jobs.

Major job losses in the fossil fuel industry mean education is more important than ever to diversify the economy in Louisiana. But when colleges aren’t top-tier, and high school seniors are weak in math, science, and reading, many businesses just may not be interested.

When LEAP test scores took a nosedive earlier this year in math, English, science, and social studies that affected every school district in the state, some administrators and teachers wanted to scrap letter grades for public schools. November is the time letter grades are announced to show taxpayers how schools are performing.

The state’s budget surplus and the extra billions in federal funding for education offer an excellent opportunity to develop a plan to reward better performing schools and remediate the under performing ones. It shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all funding formula for new money.

You must have accountability and school performance grades in public education in order to identify the successes and shortcomings in the system. Otherwise, once the ACT scores are in, it’s too late to go back and fix the math, science, and reading programs which shortchanged the students’ chances for whatever future they want to pursue.

I wonder how much LSU is willing to spend on its next football coach to secure their team’s future performance?

Email Garey Forster at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.

Our Views: No letter grades for schools, but that's not good enough for education bureaucrats


Garey Forster is former chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a former Louisiana Secretary of Labor. His column runs weekly. Email him at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.