Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Louisiana’s colleges and universities endured more than a decade of budget cuts that pushed the cost of education to students and families. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that average tuition almost doubled from 2008 to 2019 – the largest percentage increase of any state – while per-pupil state support fell by 37.7% or $4,340 over that span. Louisiana’s failure to invest in higher education harms students of color and those with low incomes the most, as they are less likely to receive TOPS scholarships, but authors Victoria Jackson and Matt Saenz explain how states can choose a better path.
To address their large budget shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 recession while protecting — and raising — funding for higher education and other essential services, states should raise revenue, including by increasing taxes for wealthy people. High-income and high-wealth households have largely been insulated from the economic hardship caused by the pandemic: several types of wealth have maintained or even increased their value; the stock market has recovered; and home values have risen (especially luxury homes). State policymakers can strengthen taxation of wealth and high incomes by:
Teaching kids to read in Baton Rouge
A new at-home program in Baton Rouge will seek to prepare low-income children for kindergarten and the skills needed to learn how to read. HomeStart, which its supporters hope will eventually go statewide, will provide interactive tools, such as table computers, and in-person visits from education coaches. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier explains the challenge that Louisiana faces:
Early literacy in Louisiana has become a matter of fresh urgency. A recent report found 60% of public school kindergartners last fall who took a screening test were below grade level when it came to their awareness of phonemes, distinct units of sound that distinguish one word from another. That’s 10 percentage points worse than in fall 2018. Understanding phonemes is key to learning how to read. Third-graders who took this same screener last fall showed they were still having trouble reading. About half were below grade level when it came to demonstrating that they can comprehend what they were reading. That’s also a decline of about 10 percentage points compared with two years before.
Winter storms how racial inequities of disaster response
All Americans need to be better prepared to deal with extreme weather
conditions as the effects of climate change intensify and the consequences of the failure of public officials in every level of government to prepare for them become reality. But when these events happen, historically marginalized communities are the ones that are hit the hardest. The latest example of this inequality comes from Texas, where communities of color were hit with rolling blackouts first and are most likely to be the last to have power restored. The New York Times’ James Dobbins and Hiroko Tabuchi report:
Experts worry, in particular, that rising energy prices amid surging demand will leave many families in the lurch, unable to pay their utility bills next month and triggering utility cutoffs at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. In Texas’ deregulated electricity market, prices can fluctuate with demand, leading to a potential jump in electric bills for poorer households that already spend a disproportionate amount of income on utilities. “Whether it’s flooding from severe weather events like hurricanes or it’s something like this severe cold, the history of our response to disasters is that these communities are hit first and have to suffer the longest,” said Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University and an expert on wealth and racial disparities related to the environment.
Recovering to a different economy
Economists are warning that America needs to invest more in retraining workers for new occupations or fields of work, as millions of jobs will not be returning when the pandemic ends. A decrease in business travel, more workers working from home and the rise of automation will result in our nation returning to a different economy than it left behind last March. The Washington Post’s Heather Long explains the urgent task at hand and the hurdles that many unemployed people face to retraining.
“We think that there is a very real scenario in which a lot of the large employment, low-wage jobs in retail and in food service just go away in the coming years,” said Susan Lund, head of the McKinsey Global Institute. “It means that we’re going to need a lot more short-term training and credentialing programs.” One problem for many unemployed people is they lack the money to retrain. This crisis has put many out of work for nearly a year, and the financial support from unemployment and food stamps is often not sufficient to pay their bills. The stimulus legislation being debated in Congress does not include any money for retraining.
Funding specifically for retraining unemployed workers is not currently included in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.
Deadline approaching for the State Policy Fellowship Program
Applications for the 2021 class of State Policy Fellows are due tomorrow – Friday, February 19, 2021. The State Policy Fellowship is an exceptional opportunity to develop in-depth policy expertise. Fellowship responsibilities include tracking and analyzing legislative proposals and state budgets as well as conducting research and analysis on state budget, tax and other issues to improve the lives of families from all backgrounds. Fellows in this cohort would begin in August 2021. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Click here to apply.
Number of the Day
1 – Number of years that life expectancy in the United States has dropped during the pandemic, the most since World War II. The drop was worse for people of color, as Black Americans lost nearly three years and Hispanics nearly two years. (Source: Associated Press)