Investing in early childhood

Investing in early childhood

The new governor of California is proposing to spend $2 billion in the upcoming fiscal year to boost early childhood education for low-income families as part of an effort to close the school “readiness gap” between children from wealthy families and those whose parents have limited incomes. The plan from Gavin Newsom, who takes office on Monday, would pay for an array of interventions including home-visitation programs for expectant mothers, training for child-care workers and an expansion of full-day kindergarten programs, among other things. John Myers of the Los Angeles Times has the details:

The governor-elect will propose a $750-million boost to kindergarten funding, aimed at expanding facilities to allow full-day programs. A number of school districts offer only partial-day programs, leaving many low-income families to skip enrolling their children because kindergarten classes end in the middle of the workday. Because the money would not count toward meeting California’s three-decades-old education spending guarantee under Proposition 98, which sets a minimum annual funding level for K-12 schools and community colleges, it will not reduce planned spending on other education services. Close behind in total cost is a budget proposal by Newsom to help train child-care workers and expand local facilities already subsidized by the state, as well as those serving parents who attend state colleges and universities. Together, those efforts could cost $747 million, according to the budget overview document.

Closer to home, the Louisiana Department of Education has received $8 million – mostly from a federal grant – to support early childhood education. As the Daily Advertiser reports, the one-time cash infusion will pay for outreach activities and a program to improve the care that children receive in unregulated “family home” settings.

“In recent years, Louisiana has worked diligently to create an integrated, efficient early childhood education system through policies that better serve our children and families,” said State Superintendent John White. “This award is a validation of the states approach and sets us up to take ambitious next steps.”

Sin taxes won’t be a windfall
The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, and the issue is virtually sure of being a hot topic at the Legislature this year. Veteran Sen. Danny Martiny of Kenner has already said he would introduce a bill to legalize such wagering, and various gambling interests are already jockeying to decide who gets to participate. But Wayne Parry and Geoff Mulvihill of the Associated Press report that states should not expect a tax windfall. The same is true for states that have legalized the sale of marijuana.

Just look to the states that capitalized immediately after the court’s ruling last spring and to Nevada, which previously had an effective monopoly on sports gambling. Even though the market is still developing, the returns to date have been modest. In Nevada, revenue from sports betting has accounted for roughly one half of 1 percent of the entire state budget. … “I keep telling them this is not like a craps table or a slot machine,” said Mark Sickles, a Democratic state lawmaker in Virginia who has sponsored a bill that would place a 15 percent tax on sports betting in the state. “My main purpose is to take something that’s currently being done illegally and get some tax revenue from it.” … New Jersey was the first state to legalize sports betting after the Supreme Court decision last May. The state’s gambling industry took in $928 million worth of sports bets since the first one was taken on June 14 through the end of November. From that, the state received less than $8 million in ta revenue. Even if the state meets its projection of $25 million in sports betting tax revenue for a full year, that would amount to well under one 10th of 1 percent of the state’s $37.4 billion budget.


Teachers need more support
Louisiana started the new year without having resolved the ongoing standoff at the Revenue Estimating Conference, the four-member panel that determines how much money the state can spend each year. Two independent state economists have recommended increasing the forecast by around $300 million over the next 18 months, based on higher-than-anticipated revenues from income and severance taxes. But House Speaker Taylor Barras refused to adopt the updated forecast, which means Gov. John Bel Edwards may not have enough revenue on hand to finance the teacher pay raise he has proposed. Louisiana Association of Educators President Debbie Meaux responds in a letter to Times-Picayune:

For more than a decade now, the proper and adequate state funding needed for education has been ignored, and school employees across the state are becoming increasingly unsettled. For far too long, their work has been undervalued, and their status as professionals has been overlooked. We cannot ask these dedicated public servants to continue to absorb the impacts of depleted school funding. State legislators must prioritize their focus to ensure Louisiana attracts (and retains) talented teachers and support professionals. Our students deserve the best and brightest working in their schools.


Anti-recidivism programs get a boost
A new federal grant is allowing state corrections officials to revive a dormant program that produced a significant drop in people returning to prison after release by focusing on those at the highest risk of re-offending. As The Advocate’s Grace Toohey reports, the program targets inmates who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse disorders and works with them prior to their release. During its previous iteration from 2011 through 2014, the program produced a 12 percent reduction in the rate of inmates returning to prison within three years of release – from 39 percent to 34 percent.

State Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc said this is just one of the many initiatives ongoing to help reduce recidivism in the state. He said after this federal grant expires, he hopes to sustain the work through their own funding, which could come from the continued savings from the state’s criminal justice reforms, which passed in 2017 to decrease the state’s then-highest incarceration rate in the nation. This year, after implementing the changes to the sentencing and release stipulations, the state earmarked $8.54 million to certain prison efforts, like recidivism.


Number of the Day
45 – Percentage of pregnancies in America that were unplanned in 2011. A new program in Delaware aims to reduce that figure by training health care providers to ask women if they plan to get pregnant. (Source: Guttmacher Institute via The New York Times)