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Louisiana School Board Association

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Hear the Echoes #20 - Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 20


Educating Kids is an Investment Being Curtailed



Strange how some folks quibble over using the term "INVEST” when it is used to describe spending for education of Louisiana’s children.


Government spending is under attack nationwide.  Quarreling with that drive is like swimming upstream against the Mississippi River at flood stage.  Reduction of spending levels across the board is less like medieval medical practice of blood-letting, and more like Jack the Ripper’s throat slashing.  Selective budget cutting requires making hard decisions on priority of programs on the cut list.


When appropriations are devoted to educating children there is a case to be made that it is a high priority investment.


Income data from 2009 show that annual earnings increase significantly as workers acquire progressively higher levels of education. Median earnings for adults who have not completed high school stand at only $12,000. Acquiring a high school diploma generates an additional $10,000 of earnings on average, with any amount of sub-baccalaureate postsecondary education (including an associate degree) raising income an additional $8,000 a year, to almost $30,000. The typical four-year degree-holder earns about $50,000 a year.


It requires little analysis to see that improving educational achievement increases taxable income for generations to come.  Proven strategies for improving educational achievement include pre-K, extended day, extended week, and well developed technologic curriculum.  Instead of funding such research-based programs the Jindal administration focuses millions of scarce dollars on spending for a very small part of the state’s populace.


Currently, the Jindal administration is not only holding spending on K-12 education at a standstill level for the third consecutive year, but is transferring expenses to school districts that were formerly paid from state general funds directly.  Transfer payments for private school bus transportation, for state-promised stipends to teachers who earn National Board Certification, and for increases in contributions to state retirement deficits, all amounts to budget cuts.


Even RSD-NO charter schools have responded, this year, by eliminating pre-K programs for at-risk four year olds.  This is happening across Louisiana and such abandonment will reduce gains made in closing the gap between at-risk youth and their more privileged cohorts.  It has been demonstrated that completion of LA-4 brings at-risk children to grade level reading by grade 3.


Since this is the first step up the ladder in education it is an important investment in getting children to those levels of education that hold promise of higher earning capacity.  That appears to be an investment deserving of high priority consideration.  Yet the Jindal budget holds LA-4 participation to only 14,000 children.


There are state dollars being diverted to less worthy programs such as income tax exemptions to families sufficiently wealthy to send kids to private schools, vouchers to attend private schools that do no better than sending those children to local public schools and double payment to the New Orleans Recovery School District for insurance on buildings the RSD doesn’t own.


A bloated RSD central office payroll that amounts to over $13 million annually, compared to $10 million spent in East Baton Rouge which is almost twice the size of the RSD, is reflective of disparity in priority setting.


Time, it has been suggested, is money.  A state priority that puts spending time on conversion from the well-established star system of grading school and district performance to an ill-considered letter grade might be seen as a lower priority than expanding LA-4 or continuing to grow a three year old enrichment program.


The key goal of cutting the drop-out rates, and increasing the graduation rate is set back, if not rendered impossible, when successful programs such as early learning and extended-day are beyond the reach of funding levels.  Starving the education budget is, in the intermediate and long term, relegating Louisiana to the bottom of the list of states with high earning workforces.