Investing in young children

Investing in young children

An outside consultant recommends that Baton Rouge nearly double its number of early childhood education seats over the next seven years. The parish school system used Covid relief funds to hire the New Orleans-based ResourceFull Consulting as part of a $10 million plan to expand early childhood education. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier reports on the recommendations: 

The specific goal would be to increase the number of early childhood seats from about 5,000 currently to about 11,500 by the 2029-30 school year, which Simons-Jones said would reach about 75% of the economically disadvantaged children up to age 4 who live in the parish. The bulk of that growth would occur among the younger children, especially 3-year-olds, where the number of seats would grow from 1,265 at present to about 3,000. And it would come from expanding fully funded public programs such as Early Head Start to subsidizing the cost of private childcare centers that are willing to participate.

While a family’s access to quality, affordable child care plays a huge role in a child’s future, the programs that develop young brains must be funded in the present. The price tag for Baton Rouge’s proposed expansion is $114.5 million per year, but there are already ideas on how to generate the much-needed revenue. 

One way to finance much of the expansion would be a new tax. Earlier this year voters in New Orleans agreed to a 4-mill property tax that will fund a $21 million annual expansion of their early childhood programs. Last month the Policy Institute for Children teamed up with LJR Custom Strategies in New Orleans to conduct a poll of 400 registered voters in East Baton Rouge Parish. They found that 60% agreed that doubling the number of early childhood seats in the parish is a good, even an excellent, use of “public funding” and that these voters would be willing to pay more in taxes to make that happen.

Million poised to benefit during open enrollment
The annual open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act Marketplace plans begins on Tuesday. Most people who sign up for health coverage will be shielded from premium increases because of enhanced federal subsidies that were extended by Congress. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Jennifer Sullivan breaks down all the benefits, including a fix to a glitch in current federal rules. 

The “family glitch fix” will make more people eligible for financial help. The federal government recently finalized a rule that will more realistically determine what’s considered an “affordable” offer of employer coverage for an employee’s family members. People with an affordable offer aren’t eligible for premium tax credits, but the previous affordability calculation blocked many family members from qualifying for financial assistance even if they lacked access to coverage their family could actually afford. The new rule takes effect for eligibility determinations for 2023, and an estimated 1 million more people are expected to receive tax credits over the next ten years due to this change. Families of low-paid workers, small-business employees, workers in the service industry, and children under age 18 are expected to benefit most.

Cautious optimism on reading scores
While the increase in Louisiana’s fourth-grade reading scores bucked the disturbing numbers that came out of the “nation’s report card” earlier this week, our students still remain below the national average. Some leaders express cautious optimism that ongoing investments to improve literacy rates are slowly paying off, while others are calling for more aggressive intervention. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports

[John] Wyble (of the Center for Literacy and Learning) said the better scores show efforts to boost literacy in a state where less than half of students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades are reading on grade level are slowly paying off. … Earlier this year the House overwhelmingly approved a bill that would require third-graders reading below grade level to repeat the grade. The measure died in the Senate but Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, sponsor of the measure, said he plans to push it again in 2023. “If you want to see a sustained climb to above the national average you need something like that,” Nelson said Thursday.

Peak oil demand possible in a few years
The energy crisis stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could cause the peak global demand for fossil fuels to be reached by the end of the decade, according to a new study from the International Energy Agency. The Paris-based energy forecaster’s timeline is faster than other groups and predicts demand would plateau around 2030 and then fall by the middle of the century. The Wall Street Journal’s Will Horner reports on another factor that could decrease the world’s demand for oil: 

The IEA’s timetable is partly in response to soaring fossil-fuel prices and the sudden loss of Russian energy supplies, triggered by the war, the agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook, released early Thursday. Governments have rushed to secure alternative energy supplies. At the same time, they have accelerated pledges to boost renewable energy, with commitments totaling $2 trillion by 2030, 50% more than current levels, the agency said. 

Despite the inevitable shift toward renewable energy sources, state Treasurer John Schroder pulled nearly $800 million from the investment firm BlackRock because it has been outspoken about moving away from fossil fuels – a move that is likely to cost the state money over time.  

Number of the Day
2.6% – Percentage increase in America’s gross domestic product from July through September. This increase comes after two straight quarters of contraction. (U.S. Department of Commerce