Investing in Louisiana’s children

Investing in Louisiana’s children

Two vital state investments – funding for early childhood education and K-12 public schools – are being pitted against each other in an early showdown between Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican legislators. The public school funding formula approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) includes long-overdue pay raises for teachers and support staff, plus an additional $39 million in funding for school districts. But GOP leaders want to use the additional money for school districts to pay for early childhood education. That means legislators could soon be forced to choose whether to invest in children before or after they enter kindergarten. Julia O’Donoghue, | The Times-Picayune:

While Republicans would like to keep the pay raise portion of the formula, they want to adjust the $39 million figure. To do that, they need the school board to adopt an entirely new proposal. So, House Education Committee chair Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said she has asked the state school board to be ready to adopt a revised budget recommendation for school funding at the board’s April 17 meeting. … Edwards said Thursday he would not ask the school board to revisit its request for state dollars. “I think it may be something that the Legislature chooses to do, and if so, then I will work with the Legislature to figure out what we do then with the money then that gets freed up,” he said. If the House rejected the school funding formula, legislation with the $39 million increase could be moved in the Louisiana Senate as an alternative. But the sponsor of that proposal, Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, said he’s unsure if he is going to do that yet. Morrish is typically an ally of Edwards on education issues. “It’s an insurance plan,” Morrish said of the legislation with the $39 million for K-12 schools.

For additional perspective on the importance of investing in Louisiana’s children, listen to LBP podcast, Didja Know?.  LBP policy analyst, Neva Butkus, lays out how raising more revenue in Louisiana can grow the pie and allow children from across the income spectrum to benefit from a firm foundation in early education followed by a quality public education.  


Student loan default can impact your job
Each year, thousands of individuals lose their jobs due to defaulted student loans. Thirteen states, including Louisiana, allow professional licenses to be revoked for student loan default, leaving workers without the means to earn the money needed to make payments and provide for their families. Courtney Nagle of U.S. News and World Report reports on the scope of the program that is penalizing individuals caught in a system of ballooning student loan debt and difficult choices:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, during the 1950s only 5% of U.S. workers were required to hold a license to practice their chosen profession. Today, that percentage has risen to more than 25%. Nurses, teachers, hair stylists and travel guides are just a few of the types of professionals who require a license. The training necessary to obtain those licenses can be expensive, and many people are taking out student loans to cover the costs. Overall, student loan debt in the U.S. has risen to more than $1.5 trillion. More than 1 million people default on their student loans every year, according to a report from the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization. In the 1990s, the federal government urged states to use their license revocation abilities to curb the growing tide of student loan default. More recently, however, many states have changed their laws to protect borrowers from this punitive tactic. Today, 13 states have these types of laws, although enforcement varies widely.

State Rep. Julie Emerson is working to repeal this counterproductive policy and allow workers to keep the professional license that helps them earn a living. You can track progress on House Bill 423 here.  


Making the justice system more just
Henry Montgomery, who has spent 55 years in prison for killing a police officer at age 17, was again denied parole on Thursday. Montgomery’s case sparked a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that said life-without-parole sentences for juveniles constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment.. Associated Press reporter Rebecca Santana describes how research on brain development is slowly making its way through the states to ensure children are not treated the same as adults, but are given the chance to change:  

The Supreme Court’s decision was based in part on research that shows adolescent brains are slow to develop so teen offenders are more likely to act recklessly but also can be rehabilitated. Therefore, they shouldn’t be sentenced as harshly as adults. The sentence can still be used but only in rare circumstances for those unlikely to be rehabilitated.Since then 1,850 people have been resentenced, including 450 who have been released, said Jody Kent Lavy, executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. She said 21 states now ban life-without-parole sentences outright and five others have it on their books but don’t use it. In 2012, only five states banned life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders.


A glitch in the jury system
A high profile Caddo Parish trial that was moved to East Baton Rouge Parish for jury selection has been delayed due to a “glitch” in the computer system that maintains the jury pool. The defense attorneys for Grover Cannon, who is accused of killing Shreveport police officer Thomas LaValley, noted the absence of young people in the jury pool. An investigation revealed a startling omission: no one aged 18 to 26 and no one who had moved to the area since 2011 were included in the pool – an oversight that reduced the pool by about 150,000 individuals or one-fifth of the adult population in the region. The New York Times reporter, Alan Blinder takes up the issue and highlights the importance of getting jury pools right:

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said that in a high-profile, extraordinarily sensitive case like Mr. Cannon’s, the backgrounds of jurors were particularly important. Younger jurors, he said, might more closely relate to the defendant and his life experiences. “This is an age that grew up in an era of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, and their consciousness about shootings and police and shootings involving the police was filtered through a different experience that may not actually be shared in some ways by others,” said Mr. Guthrie, a star of the video that Washington’s Superior Court jurors see after they arrive at Judiciary Square.

Local coverage by John Simerman reporting for The Advocate highlights the constitutional questions raised by the investigation on the integrity of the jury selection process:

[Caddo District Judge Ramona] Emanuel last week rejected a pair of motions filed by Cannon’s attorneys demanding a reboot of the trial, with a new group of prospective jurors, based on both the absence of young jurors and an alleged shortage of black representation in the jury pool. Cannon is black; the police officer he is accused of killing is white. Cannon’s attorneys had argued that a shortfall in the percentage of black people in the group summoned for his trial — the jury pool is 34 percent black in a parish that is 46 percent black — failed the test of what higher courts in the past have deemed to be an acceptable disparity. Cannon’s attorneys argued that, one way or another, the jury pool for Cannon’s trial falls unconstitutionally short of being a representative cross-section of the community.


Number of the Day
35 percent – The percentage of income spent on health care by the lowest-paid workers. The highest paid workers spent 3.5 percent.  (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics with analysis by Axios)