Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Push for pre-k; TOPS bills on the move; Good news at Angola? and; No to discrimination

Push for pre-k

Top law enforcement officials from across Louisiana are calling on the Legislature to maintain funding for preschool programs as a way to reduce future crime and keep prison costs down. The organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has a new report that shows investments in preschool programs lead to less child abuse and neglect, fewer behavioral problems, gains in reading and math, and fewer prisoners.

A sophisticated analysis of more than 20 pre-kindergarten programs found that quality programs resulted in an average savings of nearly $30,000 per child served by cutting crime and the cost of incarceration and reducing other costs such as special education and grade retention… The law enforcement leaders praised Governor Edwards for his support for the state’s Cecil J. Picard LA 4 Early Childhood Program in the budget that was released Tuesday and urged state legislators follow suit by maintaining funding for all three of Louisiana’s state preschool programs. Specifically, the leaders asked state legislators not to move current bills forward that aim to cut more than $22 million in total from its state preschool programs. These cuts would lead to the elimination of more than 5,300 children’s slots—and Louisiana could miss out on more than $159 million in savings over the lifetimes of these children.


TOPS bills on the move
Senate Bill 174 by Sen. Jack Donahue of Mandeville would lock in TOPS scholarship amounts at current year tuition levels. Currently the state’s investment in the program increases as tuition increases which causes budget uncertainty and a ballooning cost to the state. Rebekah Allen of The Advocate reports the bill had no opposition in the Senate, is supported by the governor, and will likely pass the House where it heads next.

Donahue’s bill is considered a modest reform in that it doesn’t yield immediate savings to the state. Instead, it aims to contain the program’s costs while not limiting access to the program. TOPS this year is estimated to cost $320 million, but the state projects it can afford to cover the cost of about 17,400 eligible students, compared with more than 51,000 students who received the award this year.

Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge also found success in the Senate with a bill that raises academic standards for the scholarship program.

Another modest TOPS change, by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, increases the GPA required to get the additional TOPS stipends doled out to higher-achieving students.To get the baseline TOPS award that covers tuition, called TOPS Opportunity, students need a core GPA of 2.5 and an ACT score of 20. But students who get higher GPAs and ACT scores can qualify for $400 and $800 per year stipends, for the Performance and Honors-level awards, respectively. Both of these awards, which are differentiated by ACT scores, require a 3.0. Claitor’s Senate Bill 329 increases the GPAs required to get the TOPS Performance award to a 3.25 and 3.5 for the Honors award. The bill sailed through the Senate, 30-7, and now heads to the House for consideration.


Good news at Angola?
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world. But it also has an innovative re-entry court program that experts believe could be a model for other states trying to reduce their recidivism rates. Michael Kunzelman of the Associated Press reports the program allows judges to sentence low-level offenders to only two years in prison at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – as opposed to a much longer sentence – where they are provided with a mentor, job skills training and drug treatment. Offenders are sometimes required to find a job on the outside before release.

The judges already see evidence the program is breaking a cycle of crime…. Assistant warden Perry Stagg said prison officials from Mississippi, Texas and other states have visited Angola to see the program. In January, Attorney General Loretta Lynch attended a round-table discussion on it in New Orleans. “She was very interested in how we do things,” Stagg said. Only nine court jurisdictions, including in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, are currently authorized to participate in Angola’s program and a smaller companion program at a women’s prison. But the state Supreme Court appointed a participating judge to examine how the program could be expanded elsewhere, with Khey’s input.


No to discrimination
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order Wednesday that bans discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press notes, the move comes at a time when Southern states have been in the news for “religious freedom” legislation that many feel allow discrimination against the LGBT community.

Edwards’ LGBT protection order prohibits state agencies, boards and contractors from harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, political affiliation, disability or age. State contracts will be required to include a similar anti-discrimination provision. “We are fortunate enough to live in a state that is rich with diversity, and we are built on a foundation of unity and fairness for all of our citizens,” the governor said in a statement. “We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements.”…”While this executive order respects the religious beliefs of our people, it also signals to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value, but rather, that Louisiana is a state that is respective and inclusive of everyone around us,” Edwards said. Louisiana doesn’t have a state law protecting the state’s LGBT residents from discrimination, and efforts to enact such a law have failed. Shreveport and New Orleans have passed their own anti-discrimination ordinances.


Number of the Day
$4,914 – The average annual cost for a 4-year-old in childcare in Louisiana (Source: Economic Policy Institute)