Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Pre-K still unavailable for most children; Education cuts could jeopardize federal funds; Health care advocates back cigarette tax hike; Louisiana not the only state that’s gutting college aid and; Educators join fight against inventory tax repeal

Pre-K still unavailable for most children

Only 46 percent of Louisiana children were able to access publicly funded Pre-K programs according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Education.  While the headline reads as though parents are choosing to not enroll their children, the truth is that Pre-K programs are not available for every child.


“This new report shows that we are a long way from achieving full educational opportunity in this country,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. Students have made strides, “but we have so much farther to go, and making high-quality preschool available to all families who want it must be part of that.” The report’s timing is key, as high-ranking U.S. Senate education leaders announced Tuesday a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the far-reaching education funding law last reauthorized as No Child Left Behind. Duncan has long held that any such reauthorization should expand preschool access, and he repeated those sentiments Tuesday. The draft revamp does include early childhood education among permissible funding uses, Education Week reports. It will come before the Senate education committee next Tuesday. Louisiana’s own chief education leader, John White, also has touted the need for more preschool money, and has advised critics to look to state lawmakers to make that happen. The state’s impending $1.6 billion budget deficit complicates things, however.


The report notes that high-quality preschool programs are a critical part of child development, and that the gains are particularly strong for children from low-income families.


Studies also reveal that participating in quality early learning can boost children’s educational

attainment and earnings later in life. Children who attend high-quality preschool programs

are less likely to utilize special education services or be retained in their grade, and are more

likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, and succeed in their careers than those

who have not attended high-quality preschool programs.


Education cuts could jeopardize federal funds

State Superintendent of Education John White warned a House panel on Tuesday that cuts in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget to the state Department of Education could affect the state’s ability to test student.  The Advocate’s Will Sentell, White states:


“I am asking you very explicitly to consider funding quality tests and not to throw our system into a state of chaos,” White said. “We need those contracts to meet our state and federal mandates.”


White advocated for making sure that funding for testing was preserved in the state budget, despite Gov. Jindal’s opposition to Common Core.  Testing cuts could jeopardize federal education funding.


White said Monday he is concerned that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget proposal will exclude dollars for standardized tests, which he said could cost Louisiana $800 million in federal aid.


Health care advocates back cigarette tax hike
A legislators’ attempt to boost Louisiana’s cigarette tax – currently third-lowest in the country – to the national average got support Tuesday from a coalition of health organizations. As The Advocate’s Marsha Shuler reports, the bill by Rep. Harold Ritchie would raise the per-pack tax to $1.54, raising an estimated $240 million a year.


About 98,000 Louisiana youth under the age of 18 likely will die prematurely from smoking, he said.

The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids and the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free-Living held the press conference to show their support for Ritchie’s bill. The five groups formed “Invest in a Healthy Louisiana” campaign, which aims to reduce smoking by raising the tax, and therefore, the price of cigarettes, said Stasha Rhodes, of the American Heart Association.


Click here for LBP’s recent report on the benefits of raising the cigarette tax.


Louisiana not the only state that’s gutting college aid

Governors of four other states have also recommended deep cuts in state support for colleges and universities, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.


Republican governors in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin and Connecticut’s Democratic governor have proposed higher education cuts for the coming fiscal year. University officials argue that past budget cuts have pushed them to the breaking point, forcing them, for example, to rely heavily on adjunct professors and teaching assistants instead of full professors. During the recession, 48 states cut higher education spending. Alaska and North Dakota didn’t. They are the only two states spending as much or more on higher education than they did before the recession, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


The article highlighted the struggles in Louisiana, referring to proposed education cuts as the “Bayou Battle”.


Nowhere is the controversy greater than in Louisiana, which has a complicated higher education system and a Republican governor who is considering running for president. … State Sen. Conrad Appel, a Republican, said in an interview that if the higher education cuts Jindal proposed all go into effect “it would be really serious” and a big blow to colleges and universities. He said he wants to scale back the proposed cuts, but wasn’t prepared to say exactly how.


Educators join fight against inventory tax repeal

Business groups that are pushing for repeal of Louisiana’s inventory tax will get a fight from education officials in St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes, who said they would lobby against any such proposal.  The superintendents said cutting the tax would threaten their ability to fund public schools.


Asked what the biggest challenge three area school superintendents faced in the coming months, St. Charles Parish Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker unhesitatingly replied making sure they were all aggressively involved in the legislative process. Gomez-Walker said St. Charles Parish school system has been working collectively with the Sheriff’s Office, parish government and other school superintendents to oppose eliminating the inventory tax credit, which Gov. Bobby Jindal has targeted to deal with a projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall. “We risk losing about $16 million a year with elimination of inventory taxes,” Gomez-Walker said at the River Region Chamber of Commerce education roundtable held Thursday at Belle Terre Country Club in Laplace. “This is a very serious concern for all of us and we’ll be very aggressive in fighting this.”


Number of the Day

$8.60 – Return on investment for every $1 spent on early childhood learning. (Source: U.S. Department of Education )