Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Universal preschools is bipartisan goal; Show us the subsidies; Constitutional right at risk; and Homelessness on the decline in New Orleans


Universal preschools is bipartisan goal

There is now a mountain of evidence showing the return on investment for preschool is even higher than previously thought. It leads to higher graduation rates, more lifetime earnings, and better health and life outcomes. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that support for such investments is one of the few ideas that have bipartisan support. USA Today takes a look at where some of the candidates for president stand. While the election is still over a year away, the issue isn’t going away:


Hillary Clinton’s campaign has made support for universal preschool one of her earliest education policy positions (preceding even her recently released plan to reduce college debt)…Jeb Bush may have the most obvious early childhood track record. As governor of Florida, he endorsed a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to offer voluntary pre-K to every Florida 4-year-old. Following the initiative’s passage, Bush signed legislation to create Florida’s voluntary pre-K program – making the Sunshine State only the third in the country to offer universal pre-K (following Georgia and Oklahoma)…During Mike Huckabee’s tenure as governor of Arkansas, the state significantly expanded its support for preschool, creating the Arkansas Better Chance for School Success program and more than quadrupling the number of children served…Ohio Gov. John Kasich has also expanded preschool. In June he signed a budget that increases preschool spending by $40 million to serve an additional 6,000 preschoolers.


Of course, supporting early childhood education in principle only goes so far. It also takes funding:


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has supported policies to overhaul the state’s fragmented early childhood system and improve quality and outcomes across preschool and publicly funded child care programs, but has not secured increased funding to support these efforts.


Show us the subsidies

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) unveiled new rules last week requiring state and local governments to disclose how much revenue they lose through corporate tax breaks and economic “incentive” programs. Our good friends at Good Jobs First explain the significance:


“Though we are disappointed by some of the technical shortcomings of the new standard, make no mistake: this is absolutely historic good news for taxpayers,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “We have long criticized GASB for being MIA on corporate welfare; now the debate will turn to implementation of this landmark accounting rule. States and cities spend an estimated $70 billion a year for economic development, most of it through tax expenditures. But we could only estimate because GASB has never before called for standardized reporting,” explained LeRoy. “That’s the historic value of this new standard: taxpayers and policymakers will finally see the true price tag for economic development.”

Louisiana already does a much better job than most states when it comes to accounting for the cost of tax exemptions, through the annual Tax Exemption Budget released by the Department of Revenue. But the new GASB rule will strengthen disclosure, and as LeRoy notes, could have an especially big impact at the local level, where historically data has been nearly nonexistent.


Constitutional right at risk

Both the United States and Louisiana constitutions guarantee people a lawyer if they are accused of a crime. And as we all learned from watching crime procedurals, if you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be provided to you. But as the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reports, the public defense system in Louisiana is “collapsing” because of inadequate funding:


In a packed courtroom, Judge Alvin Sharp waded through the docket as names were called and people quietly stepped up before him. After a few minutes of discussing charges or situations, he asked each person the same questions. “Do you have an attorney?” The answer was typically, “No,” or “I’m trying to get one.” “Can you afford an attorney?” he asked. “No sir,” was the response from all. Everyone was handed a sheet of paper with a map to the indigent defender board for them to make an appointment that day to get an attorney. Article I, Section 13, of the Louisiana Constitution states an indigent person accused of a crime has the right to have an attorney representing him or her. But inadequate funding threatens that right, Monroe attorney Bob Noel said. “Public defense systems in Louisiana are collapsing. Local revenue is down everywhere because we rely upon court costs on traffic tickets to fund us. In several parishes, lawyers with no experience in criminal law are being appointed for no pay to handle complex criminal matters. We need another method of funding that will meet our needs and allow us to budget each year,” Noel said. Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office reported 26 district public defender boards in Louisiana operated at a deficit in the 2014 fiscal year.


Homelessness on the decline in New Orleans
Tent cities of homeless residents sprung up in parks and under overpasses in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Now, ten years later, homelessness in the metro area is down 85 percent, according to UNITY New Orleans. The Associated Press reports:


Advocates say extensive work with the homeless and government aid were the reasons for the drop. After Katrina, thousands of people were living in abandoned buildings and houses throughout the ruined city. UNITY estimated it has helped about 40,000 homeless into permanent housing since Katrina.”That is a spectacular reduction,” said Martha J. Kegel, UNITY’s executive director. Still, the rate of homelessness here remains higher than many other American cities with about 47 homeless people per 10,000 residents in 2014, the report said. Still, that’s much lower than Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, according to the report.


Number of the Day


$70 billion — Estimated amount state and cities spend on economic development every year (Source: Good Jobs First)