Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Treating kids as adults; Money matters in education; America the Unfair?; Louisiana is a low tax state; and What 401k?


Treating kids as adults

Louisiana is one of only nine states where 17-year-old children are automatically treated as adults if they are accused of committing a crime. But as The Advocate’s Danielle Maddox Kinchen reports, a coalition of juvenile justice advocates is hoping to change this double standard during the upcoming legislative session.


“We can’t hold 17-year-olds in adult prisons, subject them to adult sentences and impose lifelong convictions when we understand their actions are the actions of children,” said Josh Perry, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. “It’s counterintuitive.” Advocates for the change argue that juveniles are more likely to change their behavior, so they should be given a second chance. Unlike adult prisons, which are primarily custodial, juvenile facilities are supposed to be more treatment- and therapy-based, giving minors a better chance to be rehabilitated. Advocates for raising the age also note that 17-year-olds are more prone to risky behavior and are less able than adults to consider consequences and control their emotions.


Money matters in education

Critics of spending on K-12 education often like to say that money doesn’t influence outcomes, but common sense says otherwise. Just ask a student or a parent. Adequate funding allows for smaller class sizes, better materials and extracurricular activities. But for all of the doubters, a new study confirms it: money matters. Nick Albares with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) breaks it down:


A careful study reaches a conclusion that comports with common sense:  better funding for schools leads to better long-term outcomes for students…The study, by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley, examined data on more than 15,000 children born between 1955 and 1985.  During these children’s school years, some states raised funding for high-poverty schools due to court orders and other states didn’t, creating a fruitful environment for studying the impact of increased funding.


After controlling for such factors as enrollment growth and economic conditions, the researchers found that poor children whose schools were estimated to receive and maintain a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending (adjusted for inflation) before they began their 12 years of public school had 10 percent higher earnings — and 17 percent higher family income — in adulthood (see chart).  They also were likelier to complete high school and less likely as adults to be poor. The researchers also found that a 10 percent increase in school spending is associated with 1.4 more school days per school year, a 4 percent increase in base teacher salaries, and a 6 percent reduction in student-teacher ratios.


Policymakers should keep this research in mind as they debate ideas to tackle Louisiana’s structural deficit. According to recent data, state support per K-12 student was $463 lower in 2014 compared to 2008, adjusted for inflation.


America the Unfair?

What do Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters, Black Lives Matter activists and right-wing ranchers occupying a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon have in common? They are angry, and justifiably so, says Nicholas Kristof. Writing in the New York Times, Kristof says America’s political system is deaf to the needs of average citizens as it caters to the wishes and whims of the ultra wealthy. America is ripe for a reform moment, he says:


There are solutions — more about that in a moment — but a starting point is to recognize that this public mood of impotence and unfairness is rooted in something real. Median wages have stalled or dropped. Mortality rates for young white adults are rising, partly because so many self-medicate with painkillers or heroin. Blacks have been protected from this phenomenon by another unfairness: Studies indicate that doctors discriminate against black patients and are less likely to prescribe them painkillers. Solutions are complex, imperfect and uncertain, but the biggest problem is not a lack of tools but a lack of will. A basic step to equalize opportunity would be to invest in education for disadvantaged children as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. “I think any candidate seriously aiming to reduce inequality would have a mild increase in tax on the rich to fund higher school spending,” says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford expert on inequality. I would add that investments in education should begin early, with high-quality prekindergarten for at-risk children.


Louisiana is a low tax state

Louisiana is a facing a $750 million budget  gap that needs to be closed by June 30, and at least a $1.9 billion shortfall for next budget year. Raising new revenue must be part of solution. The alternative is unprecedented cuts to higher education and health care that will hurt the state economy. Opponents of looking at new revenue options often claims it will tank the economy, but the reality is that Louisiana is a very low tax state, according to the Tax Foundation. In terms of the share of income that goes to pay state and local taxes, Louisiana ranks 45th. This suggests there is room to raise additional revenue to stave off cuts to critical services.


What 401k?

It is no secret that Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, but given limited access to employer-sponsored retirement benefits–the largest source of retirement savings–it shouldn’t be a surprise. A new survey from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 58 percent of Americans have access to an employer-based retirement account like a 401k, but only 49 percent were actual participating in a plan. In Louisiana, the picture was darker: 53 percent of workers have access to a plan, but only 44 percent participate. On the other end, in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, 70 percent of workers have access to a plan and 61 percent participate.


Number of the day
44 percent – Share of workers in Louisiana who participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401k (Source: Pew Charitable Trusts)