LA-4 is great, but earlier start is needed

LA-4 is great, but earlier start is needed

It wasn’t all that long ago in Louisiana when the vast majority of children lacked access to affordable, high-quality pre-kindergarten education. But since the late 1990s, the LA-4 program has changed that, and today 90 percent of economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds have access to a pre-K program. The Advocate’s editorial board, citing a report from the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL), says the state now needs to start investing in even younger children.

There are many more children up to age 3 who need better child care — often too expensive for working families — and also higher-quality educational experiences in those sensitive years. The CABL story shows that providing for their needs may be difficult, as it was in the LA-4 population, but if we start at it and keep at it, the state is better off for it. Louisiana has the second-highest rate of poverty in the nation, and 29 percent of children live in poverty-level households.

The AP’s Melinda Deslatte writes about the unlikely partnership that has emerged between advocates for early childhood education and proponents of legalized sports betting. Legislation being filed for the upcoming session will seek to dedicate any revenue from sports wagering to child care subsidies.

Sports betting still faces high hurdles to passage in the Legislature, with opposition from conservative groups and pastors who object to increasing gambling options. But if passed, estimates of what Louisiana could receive from taxes on legalized sports betting range from $40 million to $70 million a year. That’s why the early childhood education community’s interested. An Early Childhood Care and Education Commission created by lawmakers said research shows young children with access to quality education options are less likely to need special education services in school, drop out before graduation or end up in the criminal justice system.

Last week was early education week in Louisiana, and business leaders joined New Orleans-area legislators and the United Way of Southeast Louisiana to mark the occasion.


A hurdle for teacher pay
Louisiana isn’t the only Southern state where teachers are overdue for a pay increase. As the national economy helps improve states’ balance sheets, at least eight other states in the South are debating teacher pay raises this spring. That means any pay raise approved by the Louisiana Legislature may merely help teachers keep pace with their peers instead of drawing Louisiana closer to the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) average. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports:

Edwards has proposed pay raises of $1,000 this year, part of a three-year plan aimed at reaching the Southern average. However, similar and more generous proposals in rival states are sure to complicate the push. “It is kind of a moving target, so it is going to take serious investment,” said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators and an Edwards ally. … In a report last week, the Louisiana Budget Project said that, rather than across-the-board hikes, the raises should target huge disparities in pay across the state. The review said teachers in 45 of the state’s 69 school districts were paid less than the state average, according to policy analyst Neva Butkus, who did the report.


The pros and cons of tourism
Tourism is the economic engine that drives New Orleans. It also is the source of jobs that offer poor wages, scant benefits and few opportunities for advancement, contributing to the endemic poverty in the Crescent City. Building off a new report by the Data Center, columnist Tim Morris explores the pros and cons of the city’s major industry for|The Times-Picayune:

The center said about three-fourths of the city’s hotel workers and 93 percent of restaurant employees earn a median wage below $15 an hour, which computes to less than $30,000 a year even with paid vacation. Industry officials are quick to point out that many of their jobs are just a starting point for getting into the workforce and advancing to higher wages in hospitality and tourism or some other employment areas. The problem for New Orleans is that those higher-paying “other employment areas” jobs are scarce. It’s not that the tourism industry has failed, it’s that state and city leaders haven’t done enough to create those jobs and to educate and train locals to work at them. And in some of those areas where New Orleans naturally excels — music stands out as the most glaring example — we end up offering gigs and putting on festivals instead of developing a sustainable recording industry like the one that has thrived in Nashville.


Incompetence is the new corruption (part infinity)
Every once in a while a story will hit the press about an inmate who was released from prison before the end of his sentence because of a miscalculation. But as|The Times-Picayune’s Richard A. Webster and Emily Lane report, such errors much more frequently keep people locked up far beyond their scheduled release date.

Hundreds, and possibly thousands of people, have been affected. Every week over the last decade, prison staff found at least one person who had been kept in jail or prison longer than their sentence required, court records show. One state inmate was imprisoned 960 days, almost three years, past his official release date. Civil rights lawyers, in response, have filed multiple lawsuits against the Louisiana Department of Corrections or the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, several of which resulted in hefty settlements paid by tax dollars. Officials have known of this problem for years but failed to correct it, the attorneys allege. These injustices could be fixed, criminal justice experts said, if only state and local authorities would improve coordination. What officials appear to have done, instead, is blame each other: The sheriff’s office denied responsibility when reached for comment, blaming the Department of Corrections (DOC). DOC declined to comment citing pending litigation, but in court transcripts it has pointed the finger at the sheriff’s office.

The whole horrifying story is worth a read.


Number of the Day
93 – Percentage of restaurant workers in New Orleans who earn less than $15 per hour (Source: The Data Center via|The Times-Picayune)