Executive budget: A modest improvement
The annual budget debate kicked off Friday morning when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration unveiled a $25 billion spending plan for 2014-15 that looks a lot different than what we’ve come to expect in recent years. Gone are the deep cuts to health care and higher education and mass layoffs of state workers. In its place are modest pay increases for state workers, and a small increase in spending on community services for the disabled, K-12 schools and public colleges (most of the higher education money is coming from tuition increases, but unlike in previous years the tuition money won’t be used to replace state dollars).
“We’re in the most stable place we can be from a revenue standpoint,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.
The governor gave a nod to the “fiscal hawks” by not including any one-time money for recurring expenses for the first time in years, though that’s a slight misnomer. The budget relies on tax-amnesty dollars that are unlikely to be available next year. Another $210 million is being spent on early debt repayments, which frees up a like amount of state general-fund dollars that also are unlikely to recur next year.
While a standstill budget is better than what we’ve seen in the recent past, it’s not nearly enough to undo the damage of the past few years. Louisiana has cut more money from higher education than any other state – by far – according to a study released earlier this week. One in four Louisiana adults continue to lack health coverage while the governor continues to reject the opportunity to expand Medicaid — which would cover 242,000 uninsured Louisianans and free up $105 million that could be spent on other priorities.
Economist touts success of early childhood education programs
High-quality early childhood education programs have the potential to eliminate achievement gaps in kindergarten between at-risk students and everyone else, according to a national expert who spoke in Baton Rouge on Thursday. And the gains from a quality preschool education continue well into adulthood, National Institute for Early Education Research director Steven Barnett told an audience gathered for the Academic Distinction Fund’s speaker series. Unfortunately, Louisiana’s investments in early childhood have withered in recent years. State spending per child enrolled in kindergarten is down 26 percent over the past decade, while spending on child care assistance for children 0-3 has plunged by 58 percent since 2008.
Legislature gears up for Common Core discussions
Following a year of overhauling the implementation of Common Core state standards in response to sharp criticism from a loose-knit coalition of parents, educators, union leaders and conservative activists, lawmakers and state officials are expecting between 20 and 30 bills to be filed this legislative session that relate to the controversial national educational standards. It is unlikely that the Legislature will completely halt the state’s rollout of the standards; instead, many expect lawmakers to codify policies already adopted by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. These include prohibiting BESE or the Department of Education from sharing student data with state and federal agencies, preventing testing on Common Core proficiency for students with disabilities, and amending state law to make it clear that curriculum control lies at the school board level.
LBP hosts free screening of “Inequality for All,” featuring Rob Reich
LBP invites you to attend a free screening of the film “Inequality for All” on Jan. 29 at the Baton Rouge Kress Gallery (447 3rd St., Baton Rouge). The film (you can view the trailer here) is narrated by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and discusses how the massive consolidation of wealth by a few has a devastating impact on our economy and on the foundation of American democracy itself. With the 2014 legislative session fast approaching, this is a unique opportunity to discuss solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Light refreshments will be served at 5 p.m., and the film will start promptly at 5:30 p.m., followed by a post-screening Q&A. Seating is limited and available on a first come first serve basis. Please RSVP here so we can provide an adequate amount of refreshments. Note that an RSVP does not ensure a seat at the event.