In Louisiana, we pride ourselves in putting family, and especially children, first. And yet, too many of our children are left behind as numerous studies and reports continue to show poor outcomes for our most vulnerable kids. Victor M. Jones of the Southern Poverty Law Center writing in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune highlights a number of bills advancing through the Legislature this session that can have a profound effect on our children – both for good and bad – beginning with House Bill 160 which provides greater transparency in school data collection:
Without data, we are unable to track the effectiveness of student disciplinary and school policing programs, assess school climate, or evaluate whether schools are complying with anti-discrimination laws. Strengthening data collection would help school officials make informed decisions on what programs should and should not be in place, foster safe and welcoming environments for students and their families and demonstrate how tax dollars are spent.
Touching on the breadth of policies being considered this session that are important to improving the lives of Louisiana’s children:
We must do everything in our power to build a strong foundation for our children. Passing legislation that gives us necessary information to make key decisions about our youth, that protects our children and the institutions that support them – that’s essential to our children’s success. So is defeating legislation that seeks to harm their access to quality education and care. We urge our lawmakers to properly fund public education and mental health services, to expand transparency and accountability of our schools and to reject policies that will harm our children’s futures.
The bills discussed in the column (including: HB 106, HB 446, HB 592, and HB211) are moving from the House to the Senate in the coming weeks. Information on the status of each bill is available on the Louisiana Legislature’s website.
Dueling public school funding plans advance
Funding for K-12 public schools in Louisiana remains a political flashpoint this session as dueling funding formulas advance in the House and Senate. The Senate’s version which advanced Wednesday, Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, is supported by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). It includes $140 million spending increase – including $1,000 teacher and $500 support staff pay raises and a $39 million increase in badly needed block grant funding for schools. Importantly, the pay raises in the Senate version are included in the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) and renew automatically each year. The House has rejected the school funding formula and instead included the pay raise in the operating budget, House Bill 105, which steers $122 million to teacher pay raises but does not include block grants for school districts. Will Sentell of The Advocate reports:
Louisiana teachers are paid an average of $50,000 per year. [Governor] Edwards has said the $1,000 raises would be the first of three years aimed at reaching the Southern regional average.
State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, said his wife is a former school teacher. Without an increase for public schools, Morrell said, teachers will be forced to use their own money to pay for school supplies. “There is a reason why BESE is asking for $39 million,” he said.
The gas tax dead for this session
As the Legislative session advances with just three full weeks remaining before adjournment on June 6, proponents of the gas tax, House Bill 542, appear to have given up. The revenue from the tax would have been used to fund infrastructure projects badly needed throughout the state. Stephanie Riegel of the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report reports on the bill’s failure to garner enough support to pass:
The bill would raise the state’s gasoline tax by 6 cents in the first year then gradually increase it to 18 cents over the next 12 years and dedicate the money to specific projects—including a new Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge—that would be named in the law. Earlier in the session, a controversial provision to also dedicate a portion of state sales taxes to the fund was removed in an effort to increase support. And the bill did enjoy wide support—even from groups like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which rarely supports a revenue measure. But opposition from Americans for Prosperity and other anti-tax groups, as well as silence on the measure from Gov. John Bel Edwards all but assured its demise in an election year.
Breast cancer is more deadly in black women, especially in the South
No other region in the country is home to a larger concentration of high-disparity states when it comes to health outcomes than the South, and breast cancer is no exception. An article by Max Blau in The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that while black and white women receive mammograms at roughly the same rate, the disease is 40% more deadly for black women than white women. In Louisiana and Mississippi, the states with the highest racial disparities, the excess death rate for black women is 60% above that of whites.
In explaining the disparity, one oncologist described a “perfect storm” of scientific and social forces. One of them is that researchers haven’t developed advanced treatments for a series of aggressive tumors — known as triple-negative breast cancer — that black women are more likely to get. Another is that recent advancements in cancer therapies for other kinds of tumors have yet to be fully proven in minorities, in part because of the lack of diversity in those clinical trials.And black women have described feeling cast aside by a health system of doctors, nurses and support groups that rarely look like them; and face further obstacles outside labs and hospitals — including lack of access to jobs, transit and health insurance. This marginalization of black women is especially prevalent in the South.
Number of the Day
3% – Black patient representation in drug trials for four different breast cancer novel drugs approved by the FDA since 2016. (Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts)