A responsible state budget

A responsible state budget

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed budget was released last Friday despite an ongoing disagreement within the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) on how much revenue the state has available to spend for the current and upcoming budget years. Stacey Roussel, Neva Butkus and Davante Lewis of the Louisiana Budget Project break down what the spending proposal means for health care, education and social services in a new blog:

Although the proposed budget represents the kind of financial stability Louisiana hasn’t experienced in several years, it still falls short of meeting the state’s needs in some critical areas: Funding for need-based aid program, GO Grants, to ensure that post-secondary education is affordable for anyone willing to put in the work to get a degree or certificate; investing state dollars where they have the greatest payoff – in high-quality early care and education programs for children 0-3 that get kids ready for school and allow parents to work; vital gains in the Medicaid program are threatened by low rates for some providers that could discourage participation in the program; and the funding formula for K-12 education will continue to lag behind other states unless it’s adjusted for inflation each year. These important investments would help grow Louisiana’s economy and help create a healthier, more educated and productive workforce. But it requires reform of the state’s broken tax structure and doing away with some of the unproductive tax breaks that hold Louisiana back. Still, the 2019-20 proposed budget represents a good start toward a more sustainable economic future.


Early care and education teachers deserve a raise, too
Complaining that it doesn’t include raises for teachers who care for Louisiana’s youngest children, state Education Superintendent John White cast the lone “no” vote on a public school funding proposal for 2019-20 that mirrors the governor’s plan to give across-the-board pay raises for K-12 teachers and support workers. White cited “deep concern” that the Minimum Foundation Program formula leaves out child care workers who make an average of $8.95 per hour. As Will Sentell of The Advocate reports, the recommendation now moves to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), which will submit its request to the Louisiana Legislature in April. Teacher pay, though, is only part of the story when it comes to an under-funded early care and education system:

Moments earlier [in the meeting] Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children urged the panel to “try to find a way to fund this sector,” meaning early childhood education. Bronfin said the Legislature in 2012 ordered sweeping changes in the state’s then fractured early childhood education setup without providing money to do so. Without public funding, families are left to bear the brunt of costs for child care while at work or attending school, she said. Last month a separate state panel recommended $86 million for early childhood education this year.

While state resources are always scarce, scholars say policymakers should not be forced to choose between funding K-12 schools and child-care assistance, as both are critical to breaking cycles of poverty. Cortney Sanders of The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports on a soon-to-be released study by Rucker Johnson of University of California, Berkeley and Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University which shows how states can maximize the impact of investments in education by ensuring both early care and K-12 are prioritized:

Using careful statistical techniques and nearly 50 years of survey data, Johnson and Jackson tracked how rapidly changing geographic variations in K-12 education funding and access to the federally funded Head Start program interacted to influence low-income children’s outcomes. The authors find that investments in early education produce the greatest dividends when followed by higher K-12 spending. Similarly, K-12 spending is more effective when preceded by access to Head Start. In both cases, the effects on children’s education attainment, and adult wages, poverty, and incarceration rates are significantly stronger and more positive when the interventions are combined than the sum of each program’s effect alone. The combined effect of these investments was large — comparable in magnitude to the average gap in outcomes between poor and non-poor children.


Exxon picks Baton Rouge
One of the world’s largest corporations has picked Baton Rouge as the site of a new production unit that could mean an investment of up to $1 billion. The long-awaited announcement came Friday morning, and just weeks after company officials and local business leaders complained of a subpar business climate because the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board turned down a request for a property tax break on a separate investment.  The Baton Rouge Business Report:

Construction will begin later this year and startup is expected by 2021, with the project expected to create upwards of 600 jobs during construction and 65 permanent jobs once completed. “Growth in feedstock supply along with the increase in global demand for chemical products continues to drive our strategic investments and expansion along the Gulf Coast,” says John Verity, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, in a prepared statement. “We’re well positioned to meet the demand for these high-performance products and investing further in Baton Rouge enhances our facility’s competitiveness.”


Justice reforms take effect today
It’s a significant day for those whose lives have been touched by the Louisiana justice system and those who have long fought to reform it. Raise the Age, a law sponsored by Sen. J.P. Morrell three years ago, goes into effect today. It reroutes 17-year-olds arrested for non-violent crimes away from the adult criminal justice system and into the juvenile prosecution system. To handle the influx, a new facility in Bunkie is set to open in mid-March. James Bueche, Office of Juvenile Justice deputy secretary, said he’s “fairly confident” his agency is ready for the change. Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press has the story:

“Nobody has a crystal ball, and we’re not going to be able to predict what the numbers are going to look like. But we prepared the best we can,” Bueche said. Bueche is asking lawmakers for a nearly $14 million financing increase next year, much of it in response to the law change. Juvenile justice advocates hailed Louisiana’s Legislature for agreeing to raise the adult prosecution age, saying the adult system places teenagers at a greater risk of physical and sexual assault; often isolates them for long periods; deprives them of education; and puts them at increased risk of suicide. Gassert believes the law change will improve safety, because she said the juvenile justice system has more educational and social services programming that could help keep youth offenders from committing additional crimes.”

Also effective March 1, approximately 36,000 Louisianans on probation and those on parole for five years after being released from prison become eligible to vote. Julia O’Donoghue reports for NOLA.com:

Almost all states make felons ineligible to vote while they are in prison. Vermont and Maine are the exceptions, where even people who are incarcerated can still cast a ballot in an election. In 14 other states, people get their right to vote back automatically when they leave prison. In 22 states, including Louisiana, people get their right to vote back after a cooling-off period that typically coincides with their time on probation and parole, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 12 states that the National Conference of State Legislatures deem the most restrictive, people lose their voting rights permanently for some crimes, or need a governor’s pardon to get their voting rights restored, or have an additional waiting period even after they have completed probation and parole. These states include Alabama and Mississippi.

Voices of the Experienced (VOTE) is hosting a celebration on the steps of City Hall in Baton Rouge today from 12 pm to 2 pm where newly eligible individuals will share their stories and register to vote.  


Programming Note: The Daily Dime is taking a break for Mardi Gras. We’ll be back on Wednesday.


Number of the Day
10,000 the number of children that may be on the state waiting list for Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) at the end of this year when two federal grants end. (Source: The Advocate)