Commission calls for $839 million for early childhood education, Pelican Institute proposes education reform, school choice

The Louisiana’s Early Childhood Care and Education Commission has produced a draft report suggesting that the state spend an initial $85.8 million on early childhood education programs for children under age three. The plan also proposes spending the same amount over a 10-year-period.

State tax dollars would fund the initial $85.5 million and local, state, federal and philanthropic money would cover the rest. Taxpayer funding includes from traditional taxes, lottery proceeds, and tobacco settlement money, and tax credits would also be made available.

Republicans state legislators, Rep. Stephanie Hilferty and Sen. Beth Mizell, co-chair the commission, which includes voting and non-voting members. Members on the committee include legislators and government officials, education experts and stakeholders, and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ wife, Donna Edwards, a former teacher.

According to the report, there are 173,000 children age 3 and younger in Louisiana who would benefit from the committee’s proposal. These children come from low-income families who live at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level, or report an income of $20,780 per year per family of three.

“Due to inadequate funding, the current system cannot meet the need, particularly for children birth through three,” the report states. “This gap negatively impacts children’s learning and their families’ participation in Louisiana’s workforce.”

The report points to research that indicates every dollar spent on early childcare education yields a $7.30 return on investment. It also points to data that shows children who participate in high-quality early care and education programs are less likely to later drop out of school, need special education, repeat a grade, or express behavioral problems that lead to involvement with the criminal justice system.

Gov. John Bel Edwards listed increased education funding as part of his 2019 agenda.

However, the Pelican Institute, argues that much more can be done, and proposed a comprehensive reform package to improve Louisiana’s failing school system called, “A school that fits.”

The Pelican Institute notes that over the past few years, Louisiana schools have been improving because of Recovery School Districts, robust growth in charter education, school choice initiatives and tenure reform.

“In recent years, school choice initiatives in New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana have started paying major dividends,” Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute told “More than 90 percent of parents in the opportunity scholarship program are satisfied with their children’s schools, and 95 percent are satisfied with their children’s academic performance.”

Grades and student performance would be greatly improved if “government bureaucrats or union officials” don’t prevent “parents from selecting the best educational options available for their children,” the institute argues. The report cites one union official who allegedly claimed “low-income parents have ‘no clue’ how to select the proper school for their children.”

After Hurricane Katrina, charter schools and school choice scholarship programs exploded in New Orleans, the institute notes, which resulted in the percentage of New Orleans students in failing schools dropping from 65 percent to 4 percent over 10 years.

Solutions the Pelican Institute proposes includes expanding school choice scholarships to all Louisiana students, creating Educational Savings Accounts, and promoting Course Choice initiatives to allow all students, including those living in rural or smaller school districts, to attend classes.

Other reform measures include rewarding teachers who have the greatest impact on their students, which includes changing teacher tenure policies and merit pay systems.



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