Louisiana will never get off the bottom of national rankings in so many categories until it properly educates its young people from the day they are born until they get some post-secondary training. John White, the state superintendent of education, said the state is ranked 50th in the number of young adults 16-24 who are neither employed nor in school.
The state also has 1.7 million of its 4.7 million people (36 percent) on Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for poor and lowincome citizens. Many of them are on that program because they never received an adequate education. Some insist a large number of those citizens shouldn’t be on the Medicaid rolls, but so far only 37,000 have been identified.
Republicans are doing their best to try and blame Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for all the state’s education failures, but it wasn’t until he took office and right-thinking Republicans in the Legislature voted for taxes that education funding has stabilized.
Now, Edwards wants to appropriate more money to K-12 and higher education, and the GOP is accusing him of putting a budget together with fake numbers. Conservative estimates by the state’s economists say the money Edwards is budgeting is there, but Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, has refused on more than one occasion to accept the forecasts.
The $39 million Edwards wants to give K-12 public schools would be just the second increase in the past decade. The governor also wants to give $1,000 raises to the state’s 60,000 teachers, principals, assistant principals, counselors, therapists, librarians and administrators. A $500 increase is being proposed for 39,000 support workers who include teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, craftsmen and secretaries.
Edwards’ budget is proposing an $11 million increase in higher education, not much but more of an increase than colleges and universities got for most of the last decade.
How bad has it been? The state Board of Regents is asking the governor and Legislature to appropriate a $172 million increase instead. The request comes after higher education absorbed a decade of budget cuts. The regents said charges on students increased 107 percent over the last 11 years.
Tuition is also high. The Southern Regional Education Board said more than 21 percent of Louisiana families’ income is spent on attending two-year colleges. The regional average is 17 percent and the national average is 18.2 percent.
Kim Hunter Reed, state commissioner of higher education, explained why those additional funds, which higher education isn’t expected to get, are needed.
“Louisiana can improve affordability and reduce student debt,” Reed said. “This is how we, as a state, will move from poverty to prosperity long-term.”
OK, we know why K-12 and higher education need more money. However, what about those youngsters from birth to age 3? The Louisiana Child Care Assistance Program assists families with early childhood education while they work or attend school.
Superintendent White has criticized Edwards for not funding early childhood education in his budget proposal for next year, and state Republicans have jumped on the bandwagon.
Shauna Sanford, the governor’s spokeswoman, in late-February said, “ In terms of funding, the governor has prioritized increased funding for teacher and support personnel raises for 2019 and early childhood education for 2020.”
Edwards recognizes there is a problem when he said, “We have more than our fair share of students who show up and are not ready to learn and we don’t catch them up. If we are serious about education in Louisiana, this is just something we are going to have to do.”
White said 3,300 families are on a wait list for early childhood education services and that could grow to 10,000 when the state loses two federal funding sources.
He said 90 percent of eligible 4-year-olds have access to early child education and care, but only 30 percent of 3-year-olds do and 7 percent of toddlers.
The Early Child Care and Education Commission that was created by a 2018 law has said there would need to be $86 million in next year’s state budget to meet the education needs of children age 3 and younger.
Taxes won’t be raised during the fiscal session beginning April 8, so legislators should concentrate instead on finding that $86 million somewhere else in the budget. Every facet of education in this state needs additional funding, and none of them should be left out.
Legislators in the Texas House are planning to spend $9 billion more on public education in the next twoyear budget cycle, and $6.3 billion of that is new money. The state would increase its share of the tab for public schools, pay for full-day prekindergarten and give school districts money to reduce school property taxes.
That is just one example of how a state stays off the bottom of those rankings.