The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released a report this week showing that from 2008 – 2017 Louisiana cut per-student higher education funding more than any other state. To compensate for the loss of state funding, Louisiana colleges also hiked tuition more than any other state. Tuition at a 4-year school in Louisiana doubled over the past decade to an average cost of $8,900 a year. This hasn’t solved difficulties in keeping their programs well-funded and well-staffed, however. As tuition has skyrocketed, course offerings and academic programs have shrunk, leaving the average consumer paying considerably more for less. While colleges got a reprieve in the most recently passed budget, reinvestment is needed as state lawmakers stare at a $1.5 billion fiscal cliff. Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman and Kathleen Masterson show that Louisiana is at the forefront of a disturbing national trend.
As states have slashed higher education funding, the price of attending public colleges has risen significantly faster than what families can afford. For the average student, increases in federal student aid and the availability of tax credits have not kept up, jeopardizing the ability of many to afford the college education that is key to their long-term financial success. With many states facing revenue shortfalls in the current or upcoming fiscal year, state lawmakers must renew their commitment to high-quality, affordable public higher education by increasing the revenue these schools receive.
Affordable Care Act strengthening
The last two counties in the US without individual market plans secured insurers for 2018 this week. Just two months ago, nearly 50 counties and 40,000 people throughout the country were facing the prospect of being in an area without insurance options in the individual market exchanges. This is no longer an issue now that health care plans will be available in all areas of the country next year. The credit, according to Vox, goes to the law itself and the way it was crafted:
Obamacare’s design gives companies a lot of incentives to participate in the law — even in the rural areas where many of these empty counties were, which have historically been underserved. The law provides financial assistance for people making 100 percent of the federal poverty level (about $12,000 for an individual) up to 400 percent (about $48,000). It caps the premiums that people have to pay at a certain percentage of their income; the less money you make, the lower the premium you have to pay. So in an empty county, where an insurer doesn’t have to worry about a competitor undercutting them, companies can set premiums to cover their costs without worrying that they’ll price their coverage too high for many of their customers. It’s going to be the federal government, not a person with a subsidy, picking up much of the extra cost.
Even as the Affordable Care Act grows stronger, Sen. Bill Cassidy continues to push a plan that sharply cuts health care. Gambit’s Kat Stromquist dug into a recent CBPP report and has more on what it would mean for Louisiana.
Report authors Matt Broaddus and Edwin Park found that a Cassidy-Graham-styled plan “shifts costs and risks to states” through its use of block grants, which present a particular threat to states (like Louisiana) that struggle with chronic budgetary issues. They also criticized elements of Cassidy-Graham which they say put consumers at risk, such as allowing states to waive rules that currently prevent insurers from placing annual or lifetime limits on policies.
Policy decisions and long sentences
An interactive feature produced by the Urban Institute takes a deep dive into the prison sentences of incarcerated people in 44 states, concluding that in order to reverse the trend of over-incarceration, reforms are needed in how we approach violent crime. This finding makes Louisiana’s recent criminal justice overhaul even more meaningful, as it includes reforms that impact those sentenced for violent crimes, including expanded eligibility for parole, reduction of some sentences and increases to good time accruals for violent offenses.
The US incarceration rate has more than quadrupled since the 1970s. Attempts to end mass incarceration have largely focused on reforms for nonviolent and less serious convictions, but that won’t be enough. Recent efforts to reduce the number of people who are sent to prison in the first place, like alternatives to incarceration for drug offenses, have helped stem the flow in some states and prisons. But these efforts typically only affect people who wouldn’t be in prison for very long anyway.
Investments in young children critical
Early childhood care and education has long been considered necessary in order to close gaps in learning and educational outcomes between children living in poverty and their peers. However, new research has found differences in brain matter emerging in early infancy, pointing to the need for interventions even earlier than pre-school. Currently, Louisiana does not spend any state general fund dollars on early care and education for children from birth to 3. The Brookings Institution has more:
New research on early brain development suggests that preschool, while important, may not be enough. Laura Betancourt and Hallam Hurt from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that one-year-olds growing up in poverty are already lagging behind their middle-income peers on tests of language and cognitive ability. In their study of 44 infants, newborns from low-income families had less grey matter (i.e., the part of the brain where information is processed) than their middle-income peers. This suggests that differences in prenatal environments may be at play.
Number of the Day
$5,350 – The per student cut in funding for four-year colleges in Louisiana, inflation adjusted, 2008-2017 (Source: Center on Budget Policy and Priorities)