Louisiana took a big step last year when the Legislature approved continuing foster services after a child turns 18, if they’re still enrolled in school. And last week the state took another step forward when a legislative task force recommended that every child stay in foster care until age 21. The Nola.com|The Times-Picayune editorial board applauds the decision and outlines how preventing children from “aging out” of foster care better prepares them to live life on their own.
The task force painted a grim picture of the current situation: —Only 58 percent of young people who leave foster care at 18 will graduate high school by age 19. That compares to 87 percent of all 19-year-olds. —Nineteen-year-olds no longer in foster care have higher rates of alcohol abuse and substance abuse than those still in care. —Only half who leave foster care at 18 are employed at age 24. Youngsters could choose not to stay in foster care past age 18 but could return if they met some requirements, according to the task force proposal. “It’s fair to say these recommendations would make ‘aging out’ at 18 a thing of the past, and that’s truly life-changing for young people in foster care,” Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said in a written statement.
Slow growth for Louisiana’s population
Louisiana is lagging behind a majority of states in population growth, according to new data from Pew Trusts. The data shows that the Bayou State fell below the median 50-state growth rate over the past decade, and has actually lost residents over the past two years. The nation as a whole grew at its weakest pace in more than 80 years. The new data is important, as population trends are factors to both state government finances and economic growth.
The nine states that lost population were West Virginia (‑0.62 percent), Illinois (‑0.35 percent), Alaska (‑0.32 percent), Hawaii (‑0.26 percent), New York (-0.25 percent), Louisiana (‑0.23 percent), Wyoming (‑0.21 percent), Mississippi (-0.1 percent), and Connecticut (‑0.03 percent). Losses in each over the past year were driven by people moving out of the state, and West Virginia also had more deaths than births. … Population trends are tied to states’ economic fortunes and government finances. More people usually means more workers and consumers adding to economic activity as they take jobs and buy goods and services, which generates more tax revenue. A growing economy, in turn, can attract even more workers and their families. The reverse is usually true for states with shrinking or slow-growing populaces.
Students take a stand against fee increases
Funding for higher education in Louisiana has finally stabilized after a decade of budget cuts. But those years of disinvestment shifted the bill for a college education from the state to students, as Louisiana’s colleges and universities hiked fees to fill in gaps in their budgets. The University of Louisiana, LSU and Southern University systems all announced fee increases earlier this year. These increases are unpopular at all schools, but students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are bringing awareness to the problem, citing a lack of transparency about where the money is going. The Daily Advertiser’s Leigh Guidry has the story:
“I have three Student Union fees I pay,” [Maggie] Anders said. “And no one seems to know what the Masterplan Advancement Program Fee is.” … “One, we are asking for more transparency,” Anders said. “Two, we would like to inform students of fees many don’t even know about. And three, we want student feedback on which fees they don’t want to keep paying.” They plan to take the feedback to their Student Government Association and university and system administration. “We want to start the conversation,” Anders said.
To address student mental health, raise the minimum wage
College students know that their education is expensive, and that for many students a well-paying, fulfilling job after graduation is far from a sure thing. Worries over school debt and concerns about their financial futures are two important reasons why two-thirds of college students report feeling “overwhelming anxiety” at least once a year. And increasingly, college students are coming from strained financial circumstances at home and need to work their way through college, even while accumulating student debt. In 2016, 39 percent of undergraduates came from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. One way to improve students’ mental health would be to raise the minimum wage. Inside Higher Ed’s John Warner writes that a $15 an hour wage floor would have a tremendous positive effect on students who have to work while attending school:
What would a $15 minimum wage do for students who must work to support themselves and pay tuition? When I matriculated to the University of Illinois in 1988, it took about five weeks of full-time minimum wage work in the state to pay a year’s tuition. Even when the Illinois minimum wage rises by a dollar next January 1 to $9.25 per hour, it will take over 48 weeks of full-time minimum wage work in the state to pay a year’s tuition. Raising the minimum wage to $15 reduces that number to 30 weeks of full-time work, not nearly as good as the deal I got 30 years ago, but it’s an improvement. … In terms of the money, we’ve been penny wise and pound foolish. The human cost of all this mental health suffering is tremendous, but so is the raw dollars and cents. If we redirect our resources towards prevention and opportunity, we may find that things like a $15 minimum wage, free college, student loan forgiveness, and access to health care are more affordable than we think.
Number of the Day
36,000 – Approximate number of convicted felons who will regain their right to vote on Friday as a result of a law passed last year by the Louisiana Legislature. (Source: WWNO)