Melanie Bronfin

Melanie Bronfin

When the number of young children served by Louisiana’s child care assistance program plunged in the late 2000s from more than 40,000 to 15,000 due to budget cuts, it didn’t get a lot of attention at the state Capitol. But Melanie Bronfin noticed. With a singular focus, she has worked to make sure that children living in low-income families have access to high-quality early care and education programs that can pay lifelong dividends. Over the past decade, she has done more than any other Louisianan to bring early childhood issues to the front of the public debate. She did it by matching careful research with passionate advocacy and a message that forged a true bipartisan coalition in a capital that too often splits along party lines. Bronfin is stepping down from her role leading the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, but not before writing a valedictory column in The Advocate

Until this session, early childhood programs, especially for children under age four of working parents, were unable to count on state investment, and so the only state-administered program went from serving almost 40,000 to 15,000 children. The new state dollars this year will allow 1,500 more children to be served in the Child Care Assistance Program. Sounds small, but the investment is huge for working families. Louisiana families with one infant and one preschooler experienced a 35 percent increasein child care costs between 2010 and 2016. Single parents pay 38 percentof their income for infant center care, an important statistic since 45 percent of the state’s children are in single parent families. Yet, despite our wins this session, Louisiana still spends less than one-half of one percent of its general funds on early care and education. It is serving less than 15 percent of its children in need under age four while two-thirds of young children in Louisiana have both parents working. Perhaps worst of all, over 40% of our children are starting kindergarten behind, and children who begin behind generally stay behind.

 

Cash bail hurts families
The growing movement against the use of cash bail has mostly focused on how it affects people accused of crimes, who often languish in jail for weeks or months without having been convicted of anything simply because they lack the resources to buy their freedom. Jonathan Varnado, a criminal justice instructor from Hammond, writes in The Advocate that the money bail system also can have far-reaching effects on families. 

To save a loved one from violence, health risks, family separation, and job loss, family members must rush against the clock to raise enough money to pay for a bail bond. They dip into savings; they borrow money from predatory lenders; they ask extended family for help; they do whatever they possibly can to get their loved one out of jail. They’ll likely spend thousands of dollars on a bail bond. Because bail bonds are nonrefundable, they’ll never get this money back, even if the charges are dropped or the defendant is acquitted. Or worse, they’ll fail to come up with enough money for a bail bond. And then they’ll deal with the heavy burden of knowing their loved one will spend another night in jail solely because they don’t have enough money to give the bail bondsman. 

 


Reacting to Kids Count
The annual Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation had the predictable bad news for Louisiana, where endemic poverty has contributed to some of the worst outcomes for children anywhere in the country. While Louisiana improved on some measures, we also took a step backwards on other rankings, including education. The Advocate weighs in with an editorial: 

Kids Count’s national report noted the negative numbers produced as immigrant families move to states along the southwestern border. Typically, these families are poorer as they come into the United States. However, many immigrants are working and contributing to the tax base, even if at lower wages. Over time, they do better, but Kids Count — as remorselessly as it does for Louisiana — comes out every year. Strikingly, Louisiana is not a state with lots of immigrants, but it remains a state with a very large number of poorer families, of lower educational attainment and thus with less chance of good-paying jobs that can support a family.

‘When they see us’
A new Netflix miniseries has drawn fresh attention to the plight of five teens, all black or Latinx, who were wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989. The miniseries, “When They See Us,” has also led to a belated moment of reckoning for the prosecutors who botched the case. But as Emily Maw of the Innocence Project New Orleans points out in a guest column for Nola.com/The Times-Picayune, such accountability is exceedingly rare for prosecutors, and is especially needed in Louisiana’s criminal justice system. 

Nationally, Louisiana has the second-highest per capita rate of proven wrongful conviction. New Orleans far and away leads U.S. cities in the rate at which it wrongly convicts people—largely young black men. And, because of Louisiana’s draconian sentencing, most of the state’s wrongly convicted were sentenced to life without parole or death. Most were wrongly imprisoned for significantly longer than any of the Central Park Five before being exonerated. And in at least 37 of the 56 Louisiana exonerations since 1990, the state – through its prosecutors – hid evidence at trial that could have helped clear the defendant. Yet with one exception, not one prosecutor has suffered a single consequence for sending the wrong person to prison.

 

Number of the Day
371,000 – Number of Louisiana children living in homes where parents lack secure employment (Source: Kids Count Data Book via The Advocate)