Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

State support for K-12 students still down; When the cupboard is bare; Budget smoke and mirrors and; The Middle class is shrinking

State support for K-12 students still down
Quality education is key to economic growth, yet Louisiana–like most other states–is still investing less per student than before the Great Recession, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Total state support per K-12 student was $463 less in 2014 than in 2008, adjusted for inflation. That’s a difference of 8 percent – money that could have gone to pay teacher salaries, buy new textbooks or upgrade classroom technology.  Louisiana is not alone in shortchanging it schools. Of the 44 states that were studied (six states were excluded because of insufficient data), Louisiana was one of 31 states that cut support to K-12 education. On the upside, local support for K-12 schools is higher than in 2008, but not by enough to offset the big cuts in state aid. Check out the full report to see how all states compare and read LBP’s new blog for more Louisiana data.


When the cupboard is bare
Three recent studies show that when SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits run out before the end of the month, families can face serious consequences. While SNAP’s ability to alleviate hunger for the working poor is well-documented, these studies suggest that when benefits run out before the end of the month the result can be increased hospital admissions, poor test scores and disruptive childhood behavior. Emily Badger of the Washington Post has more:


Toward the end of every month, hospitals in California see a curious uptick in admissions for hypoglycemia, the kind of low blood sugar that can affect diabetics. The pattern, detected in a recent study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, is almost entirely driven by low-income patients. The non-poor don’t show much change in admissions at all…That paper, led by Hilary Seligman, is one of several relatively new studies suggesting that the level of food assistance we give families — the average family of three gets $374 a month — isn’t enough for a month’s worth of meals.


Another new paper by Anna Gassman-Pines and Laura E. Bellows at Duke University looked at the timing of food stamp benefits and student test scores in North Carolina… [the results] suggest that children perform best when their families receive their benefits two to three weeks before achievement tests, while they may be preparing for them…Another working paper, by Lisa Gennetian at the National Bureau of Economic Research and researchers at the University of Chicago, looked at disciplinary data among fifth through eighth graders in the Chicago public school district. Children from families who received food stamps had higher rates of disciplinary incidents than children from families who didn’t. But the gap between the two groups widened as the end of the month approached.

Budget smoke and mirrors
Legislators reluctantly signed off on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan for patching a $470 million mid-year gap. But The Advocate’s editorial board says one particular part of that deal was particularly irresponsible, as it involved pushing $126 million in Medicaid expenses into the next fiscal year.


Amid all the dodges and weaves proposed by Jindal’s commissioner of administration, Stafford Palmieri, one stood out to Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge. It was the $126 million the Jindal administration described as an “anti-fraud” initiative in the state health department that postpones payments to health care providers by two weeks. Palmieri said that gives the department time to closely check for fraud — but the net effect, Claitor and other lawmakers noted, is that the maneuver pushes payments for services into the next budget year. “We’re not going to find $126 million in fraud. We’re just slow-paying the providers,” Claitor said. “This is cash flow management,” Palmieri replied. It was a last expression of the cynical wonderland of Jindal accounting. “While this might produce some savings from reducing fraud, the real ‘savings’ come from pushing the last two weeks of state payments owed to Medicaid health care provider plans into next fiscal year,” the Public Affairs Research Council commented.


The Middle class is shrinking
A report released by the Pew Research Center shows that the middle class no longer constitutes the majority of the U.S. population. Don Lee of the Los Angeles Times reports that experts find the steady decline of the middle class worrisome:


Middle-income households have been the bedrock of consumer spending, and many liberals in particular view the declining middle as part of a troubling trend of skewed income gains among the nation’s richest families…Rapid growth of upper-income households, coupled with an increase in less-educated low earners, has driven the decline of the middle-income population to a hair below 50% of the total this year, Pew found. In 1971, the middle class accounted for 61% of the population, and it has been declining steadily since. Pew defined middle class as households earning two-thirds to twice the overall median income, after adjusting for household size. A family of three, for example, would be considered middle income if its total annual income ranged from about $42,000 to $126,000. Pew analyzed data from the Census Bureau and the Labor Department, as well as the Federal Reserve.


Number of the Day
– Cut in state support per K-12 student in Louisiana from 2008 to 2014, adjusted for inflation (Source: CBPP)