Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Busted flat in Baton Rouge; Early-childhood education: Pay now or pay later; Rich-poor education gap widens; and Proposed budget would help children


Busted flat in Baton Rouge
After Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature closed Earl K. Long Medical Center in early 2013, many of the uninsured Baton Rouge residents who had flocked there for a generation started using Baton Rouge General Medical Center’s mid-city emergency room for their medical needs. Costs climbed, and so did financial losses, and by last summer the hospital threatened to shut down its ER. The Jindal administration quickly promised $18 million to keep it open. But those promises fizzled, and on Tuesday morning the hospital announced that it was closing the only emergency room serving the heart of Louisiana’s capital city. The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler has the story:


The closest emergency rooms from Baton Rouge General’s Mid-City campus is Lane Regional Medical Center, 30 minutes to the north in Zachary, and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, 30 minutes to the south on Essen Lane. Mid-City’s ER recorded 45,000 patient visits last year.


The hospital that is being paid special rates by the state to treat the uninsured, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, sits in the suburbs, far away from where most uninsured residents actually live. The Jindal administration promised to provide more “urgent care” clinics where people can be seen for non-emergency needs. But if you live in the capital city – with or without insurance – getting care for a medical emergency just got much more difficult.


Too bad there isn’t some kind of federal program that would cover 100 percent of the cost of covering low-income uninsured adults through 2016, and 90 percent of the cost after that. Because a program like that, had the state elected to participate, could have provided the kind of financial support that might have kept this from happening.


Early-childhood education: Pay now or pay later
From North Carolina comes yet more evidence that spending money on high-quality early childhood programs is perhaps the best investment that states can make. A study there analyzed 15 years of data from a pre-K program and another program that provides health and family services for children from birth to age 5.


Access to the state’s prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds (at the 2009 funding of $1,110 per child) reduced the likelihood of third-grade special education placements by 32 percent, and access to Smart Start reduced the odds by 10 percent. Researchers saw a 39 percent reduction in special education placements following both early childhood programs.Muschkin said the results are “yet another incentive” for policymakers to extend early education to children to avoid spending more on special education down the road. “It costs about twice as much to educate a child in third grade who receives special education services,” Muschkin said. “If we were spending $8,000 for a regular third-grader, we would be spending twice that for a third-grader placed in special education.”


Rich-poor education gap widens
The more money your family earns, the likelier you are to graduate with a four-year college degree. While that’s been the case for ages, it’s never been more true than today, as new data shows the gap in bachelor-degree attainment has doubled over the past four decades. The AP reports:


The percent of students from the lowest-income families — those making $34,160 a year or less — earning a bachelor’s degree has inched up just 3 points since 1970, rising from 6 to 9 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, college completion for students from the wealthiest families has risen dramatically, climbing from 44 to 77 percent.


On the bright side, more students than ever are starting college. But students from poorer backgrounds are much less likely than their wealthier counterparts to complete the degree. The report form the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy comes as President Obama is proposing to make community college free for low income students, and as the cost of a college education in Louisiana continues to climb as tuition replaces the state support that has been cut in recent years.


Proposed budget would help children
Professional journalists based in Washington tell us President Obama’s proposed federal budget, released Monday, has practically zero chance of actually being enacted. That may be true, but Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that’s too bad.


It would expand opportunity, especially for children; reform various programs and tax incentives to make them more effective; and help large numbers of middle- and low-income families while scaling back inefficient tax shelters that mainly benefit those at the top. The budget should also strengthen economic growth.  It would curb tax-driven economic distortions and invest part of the savings in initiatives that should make the labor force larger and more productive, such as pre-school education and child care, improved college access, stronger tax incentives for people to work, and much-needed infrastructure investments.


And it is not the big spending plan that critics claim. Rather, it would keep total federal spending over the next decade at 21.75 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s exactly the level it was during Ronald Reagan’s administration.


Number of the Day


$23.8 million – Total 2014 losses claimed by Baton Rouge General Medical Center – Mid City. (Source: The Advocate)