Spotlight on early childhood

Spotlight on early childhood

Louisiana’s budget is in better shape than it has been in recent years. But the state still doesn’t allocate nearly enough money to its youngest children, whose fast-developing brains could benefit from high-quality early childhood education that is financially out of reach for most low-income parents. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed $13.5 million for early childhood education, but most of that money would be used to make up for the loss of expiring federal grant dollars. Advocates say the need is at least $31 million.

The funding controversy goes on even as the value of early childhood education wins praise in the House, Senate and elsewhere. … Backers say the money is the best way to tackle a huge state problem – nearly half of children are ill-prepared for kindergarten. The most urgent need, officials say, is trimming a waiting list of 5,520 children from low-income families who need early childhood education while their parents work, attend school or are in job training. That service is called the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP. It covers about 15,000 children today, down from about 40,000 in 2009. Those covered today represent 15 percent of the need for services that cost about $7,000 per year.

A return to fiscal recklessness?

It took 10 legislative special sessions over three years to craft the imperfect compromise that has stabilized the state budget – and shored up financing for higher education and health care following years of cuts. But already some in the House are trying to tear up the deal and return Louisiana to the era of fiscal recklessness that began with a pair of unaffordable income-tax cuts in 2007 and 2008. The Advocate’s editorial board explains:

 

The bill by state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, would begin shrinking the 0.45% sales tax hike in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, repealing it by 2023. Incredibly, in the House Ways and Means Committee, the Harris bill was waved through. Several Republican members characterized the state’s recent budget surpluses as proof the state is overtaxing its people. …  This is a misinterpretation of the surpluses, which are still relatively small – $300 million in the context of a state general fund that is about $10 billion a year. Every budget is based on a forecast that can fall short as well as come in higher. Better a small surplus than Jindal-Harris deficits and one-time money used to prop up the operating budget.

Beam on BESE

State Capitol observers have noted for years that the state Senate operates in a much less partisan manner than the lower chamber across Memorial Hall. Rarely has that contrast been more vividly on display than during the current debate over teacher pay, where senators voted overwhelmingly to adopt the $39 million increase in the school financing formula recommended by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education while the House has bogged down along partisan lines. The inimitable Jim Beam reports in the Lake Charles American-Press:

The nine Republican members of the House Education Committee voted to send the MFP back to BESE, asking the state board to remove that $39 million. The committee’s five Democrats opposed the move. BESE subsequently refused to honor the committee’s request. The House then decided to instead include a $1,200 teacher pay increase and a $600 support worker raise in the state budget it sent to the Senate. Those raises are not in the MFP, so there is no guarantee they will be financed in future years. Senators also have an MFP resolution that contains the $39 million. After some senators voiced strong support for teachers and the extra funding, the Senate voted 37-1 to send its resolution to the House. So there is a major conflict between the two chambers that will have to be ironed out. Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said, “Moving this across the hall (to the House), it sends a message.”

 

State debt is declining

Louisiana owes about $7 billion in principal and interest on money borrowed over the years to pay for various state and local construction projects. That comes to $1,497 per resident – the first time in more than a decade that the per-capita debt load has declined from the previous year. The Associated Press’ Melinda Deslatte explains:

Boosted borrowing levels, combined with pension and other state debts, grew the per capita debt level every year during Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure. The Jindal administration and lawmakers at the time overcommitted Louisiana to construction work, leaving the state on the hook for years of projects that far outpaced available money. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration and the majority-Republican Legislature have worked to curb the borrowing levels, with the Bond Commission report showing the state’s tax-supported debt load fell $650 million last year compared to 2017. Still, the numbers remain large – and out of step with other states.

 

Number of the Day

799,000 – Number of U.S.-born people living in Mexico, a fourfold increase since 1990. Other numbers put the figure as high as 1.5 million (Source: The Washington Post)