Use federal funds to invest in Louisiana’s people

Use federal funds to invest in Louisiana’s people

The American Rescue Plan Act will disburse $1.9 trillion in Covid-19 relief to states and localities to help them build back from the pandemic. State and local governments have broad discretion in how they spend the money so long as they don’t use it to finance tax cuts or to pay for public employee pensions. With so much federal money coming in, and so much leeway in how to spend it, policymakers have a unique opportunity to invest in solutions to longstanding problems. Louisiana Budget Project’s new brief offers guiding principles and suggestions for how Louisiana can invest Rescue Plan dollars to benefit the people in our state who are most in need and who have been left out of earlier rounds of public spending: 

By centering human needs, racial and economic equity, and prioritizing infrastructure investments that will help secure and improve the well-being of our most vulnerable neighbors, friends, and family members, Louisiana can use coming federal dollars to come out of the pandemic with an economy and government that works better, and offers a better future, for all Louisianans.

Invest in a diverse teacher workforce
According to the Louisiana Department of Education, only 5% of state teachers are Black men and 60% are white women, despite students of color representing more than half of the state’s public school student population. A diverse teacher workforce benefits all students, but particularly students of color in classrooms led by teachers who share their racial and cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, Louisiana has missed many opportunities to invest in developing and retaining a diverse and highly effective educator workforce. Tammy C. Barney, writing in the Louisiana Illuminator, explains the opportunities our state should take up to ensure that its teacher workforce reflects its student population:                                                                                

The state fails to invest in scholarship and/or loan forgiveness programs to attract students of color to teacher preparation programs; to invest in teacher preparation programs that produce high numbers of teachers of color to help them recruit and graduate even more teachers of color; and to provide funding for districts and/or educator preparation programs to increase the racial diversity of their teacher populations. Once the teachers of color are hired, steps should be taken to retain them. Louisiana must create inclusive, equitable and supportive environments for teachers of color by investing in induction and mentoring programs, and in cultural competence and anti-bias professional learning for school and district leaders.

Residents hoping for overdue justice 
Residents of the Gordon Plaza subdivision in New Orleans, the former Agriculture Street landfill that was labeled one of the US’s most contaminated Superfund properties by the federal government in 1994, are seeking a fully funded relocation from the City of New Orleans. After three decades of grassroots activism and intense pressure on city government, residents are hopeful that a new survey from city hall may mean progress toward their relocation. But, as contributor Halle Parker details, many residents are also concerned that the city’s compensation may not be enough to resettle.

(Jesse) Perkins, a member of the nonprofit Residents of Gordon Plaza Inc.’s four-person board, as well as board members Marilyn Amar and Lydwina Hurst, questioned the use of fair market value to determine payments. Situated on a former dump, the worth of their property has been reduced to nothing, they said. “There’s no such thing as fair market value for us. You can’t even count fair market value while living on a landfill,” Amar said. The group has been calling for a “fully funded relocation”: compensation on what the properties would be worth on nontoxic land, plus moving expenses.”

The Louisiana Weekly’s C.C. Cambell-Rock highlights the injustices the residents of Gordon Plaza, which has the second highest cancer rates in Louisiana, have faced.

“If the residents were white, they would have been removed long ago,” both Amar and Rainey have said. Tulane Environmental Law Clinic attorneys described Gordon Plaza as “a national symbol of environmental racism.”

Pandemic grocery aid for families still out of reach 
Louisiana is one of 20 states that lacks approval from USDA to distribute federal food aid intended to compensate families for school meals that students missed during remote learning. Billions of dollars of aid to put food on families’ tables are waiting to be distributed as states struggle to tackle logistical issues and submit their distribution plans to USDA. Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich reports on the urgent need that families feel to access help to feed themselves and their children: 

“We needed those benefits months ago,” said Tiffany Flennoy-Corder, a mother of six who lives in Nashville, where public schools were closed until October of last year. Nearly half of students in the district are still learning virtually. Flennoy-Corder, who’s a full-time student and fledgling business owner, has been managing virtual instruction for her four school-aged kids, who range from fifth to 10th grade, for more than a year now. Normally, her kids would eat breakfast and lunch at school, which helped stretch the family’s SNAP benefits. After the pandemic hit, Flennoy-Corder began feeding all of them — including her 18-month-old, 4-year-old and her 4-year-old nephew she watches during the day — every meal at home. Keeping her family fed during the pandemic has been a herculean feat. At times, it meant skipping meals herself. She’s lost 36 pounds since March from rationing.

In the spring when P-EBT was initially instated, virtually all schools were closed and identifying children who qualified for the program was relatively easy, but as schools have opened up district by district, state agencies have struggled to adapt the program accordingly. 

School schedules are locally controlled, and many districts are doing in-person and virtual or hybrid schedules, or all three, which means tracking eligibility would have to be done on an individual student basis, something states don’t have the capacity to do.

Number of the Day
5% – The proportion of Louisiana’s public school teachers who are Black men. 54.5% of the state’s public school students are children of color. (Source: Louisiana Department of Education via The Illuminator)