The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the most effective anti-hunger program in the United States, and serves more than 400,000 households in Louisiana. A new Farm Bill proposal, by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, could cut food assistance to low-income households and impose new barriers to receiving SNAP. Although the proposal has yet to be officially released, early reports reveal that Conaway’s proposal is likely to include costly and punitive work requirements that will be paid for by savings generated from people losing benefits. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Elizabeth Wolkomir and Stacy Dean share why Conaway’s plan is more likely to hurt low-income people than to help:
The research in the field indicates that the sweeping and aggressive new work requirements that the Conaway proposal reportedly contains are likely to cause still more low-income households to lose food assistance, while doing little to increase employment. Indeed, the work-requirement proposal appears to fly in the face of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s call for evidence-based policymaking. The 2013 farm bill provided $200 million for ten substantial state demonstration projects to find what works — and what doesn’t — in helping jobless SNAP participants gain employment. These demonstrations — which are testing various approaches to employment-based interventions, including expanded work requirements — are well underway, and results will be forthcoming in the years ahead.
TOPS eligibility is growing, for now
Louisiana’s popular TOPS scholarship program has been growing steadily in participation and cost for years, and the program hit a record high in 2017 with more than half (52 percent) of Louisiana high school graduates qualifying for TOPS. Statewide eligibility in all four TOPS scholarship programs reached record highs, which state education officials attribute to recent changes in high school curriculum and ACT prep. Wilborn P. Nobles III of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune has the details:
The Class of 2017’s record year follows a five-year initiative by the Education Department to increase access to college opportunities for high school seniors statewide. Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a policy to give all high school students free access to the ACT by 2013. Louisiana students now also take a “TOPS curriculum” in high school, which aligns the requirements to receive a high school diploma with admissions eligibility for the state public university system, according to the news release.
Even more Louisiana high school graduates could become eligible for TOPS in future years, under legislation that was approved by the Senate this week. But, several bills under consideration also would tighten eligibility standards in an effort to decrease the overall costs of TOPS. Nobles, again:
It remains uncertain how the state’s $700 million budget shortfall will affect eligibility and scholarships in coming years. Louisiana’s college leaders have expressed concern that lawmakers may make cuts to total TOPS awards granted for the 2018-19 school year. Lawmakers have introduced and debated several bills during the 2018 legislative session that would make significant changes to the scholarship program.
Racial bias drives school discipline
A new analysis of school discipline data by the U.S. Government Accountability Office reveals startling disparities along lines of race, gender, age and ability. The frequency of discipline, including suspensions, was highest for black children, especially those in preschool. Boys and children with disabilities also had disproportionately high rates of suspension, which research shows has detrimental impacts on children and society down the line. Valerie Strauss with The Washington Post explains:
Addressing why disparities in discipline exist, the GAO said research points to bias: “Implicit bias – stereotypes or unconscious association about people – on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students’ behaviors differently based on the students’ race and sex.” … The GAO report noted that research has shown that children suspended from school lose important instructional time, are less likely to graduate on time, and are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school and become involved in the juvenile justice system. A study of California youth estimated that students who dropped out of high school because of suspensions would result in about $2.7 billion in costs for the state, stemming from lost wages and tax revenue, increased crime, and higher welfare and health costs.
Learning from Oklahoma
The reason that Oklahoma’s public school teachers are currently in the second week of a walkout is straightforward: The state has cut funding for public schools by 28 percent over the last decade, when inflation is taken into account. The reason for the deep cuts to Oklahoma schools is equally clear: generous tax cuts combined with falling oil prices have left the state without enough revenue to fund basic programs and services. Sound familiar? Jeff Stein at the Washington Post writes about the lessons other states can learn from Oklahoma’s tax woes.
The only states where lawmakers saw a greater decline in per-person state revenue available to them were Alaska, Wyoming and Louisiana, which are similarly dependent on energy prices. Oil and gas prices are expected to tick up next year and bring in more money — but probably not enough to make up for the overall trend.“Oklahoma’s problem is slumping oil and natural gas tax revenue,” said Scott Drenkard, of the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning think tank. “There is a narrative out there that ‘tax cuts for the rich’ are what is causing a revenue pinch, but the numbers don’t really bear that out.”
Number of the Day
$346 million – Amount of money added to the state general fund forecast for Fiscal Year 2019 by the Revenue Estimating Conference (Source: REC)