- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Jan. 6

The New Orleans Times-Picayune on health and education of children:

The strain of poverty and poor health makes it more difficult for many youngsters in Louisiana to succeed in school. Roughly 28 percent of children statewide are living in poverty. The percentage is even higher in New Orleans, where the child poverty rate is 44 percent, according to the Data Center. Although Louisiana has increased the number of children covered by Medicaid, there are still gaps in health care statewide and thousands of children are vulnerable.

Louisiana also lags behind other states in academic achievement. Strong schools are essential to changing that, of course. But it also is important to make sure that children aren’t dragged down by poor health, hunger or other hardships.

In an effort to do that, the state is adopting the holistic model developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Legislature last year charged the Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Education, United Way of Southeast Louisiana, the New Orleans-based Childhood and Family Learning Foundation and others with developing a plan to implement the CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child program statewide.

That effort is still in the planning stage, but it got a big boost this week with a generous $250,000 donation from an anonymous donor to United Way. The money will help launch the health initiative in schools across the state, United Way president and CEO Michael Williamson said.

“Decades of research shows healthier children are better students - more able to succeed in school and in life,” the United Way said in a press release about the donation. The donation will help pay for a plan to identify health issues that affect students and coordinate care for them.

When children are dealing with health problems, they are more likely to fall behind - and perhaps more likely to drop out of school. That limits their ability to get a decent-paying job and could keep them mired in poverty.

“Given that a healthy child makes a better learner, the goal is to reduce the number of school-aged children who experience health barriers to learning and establish programs aimed at evaluating and addressing the health status and need of each child,” Mr. Williamson said.

The “whole child” model focuses on health education, nutrition, wellness, school climate, health services, counseling and social services, community involvement, family engagement and physical education, among other areas.

United Way and the Childhood and Family Learning Foundation are already working together on coordinated health care at a dozen schools in New Orleans. The plan now is to expand those efforts statewide.

Phyllis Landrieu, co-founder, president and CEO of the family learning foundation, said the effort could make a major difference in children’s lives. “A consistent and comprehensive statewide process for preventive health screenings every year for all students in all schools could assure reaching all children in need,” she said.

Improving the health of children will not only help them succeed in school now, but should improve their opportunities in the long run.

Statewide, 1-in-3 married-parent families and 4-in-5 single-mother families don’t make enough money to be economically secure, according to a January 2015 study by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University.

Researchers looked at cost of living data to calculate the amount the average household needs to pay for essentials and live a “modest but dignified” lifestyle.

According to the study, the average income needed by a single parent in New Orleans with one child is $51,264. That figure rises with more children in a home.

Strengthening students’ ability to learn could allow those children to eventually compete for better-paying jobs - and give their families more financial security.

Online:

https://www.nola.com/

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Jan. 4

The Courier of Houma on Gov.-elect Edwards

Those who worried that Democratic Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards would start out governing from the far left can rest easy, at least for now.

Edward, speaking to business officials in New Orleans two weeks ago, extended a request that the business community fully participate in the coming process of building a state budget.

“Come interact with me, and my administration,” Edwards told the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce. “Don’t just go to your corners and then start throwing grenades, because we’re never going to get to where we have to get to in the state if that happens.”

That is a useful position to take as Edwards embarks on a governorship that will test his ability to reach across the political aisle.

The Democrat - who defeated U.S. Sen. David Vitter in a November runoff - will have to work cooperatively with the state’s Republicans, who hold much of the power in the Legislature.

A key to that relationship will be Edwards’ willingness and ability to listen to the business community.

That’s not to say that business interests should hold the final say, but making sure there is useful communication back and forth will be vital to Edwards being able to work effectively in Baton Rouge.

And that work is essential.

The state in recent years has faced one fiscal crisis after another. And this year is no different.

The money experts in Baton Rouge predict that the budget shortfall next year will be as much as $1.6 billion.

Edwards and the Legislature will have to work together to make sure there is enough state money to pay for crucial public services while managing to trim a significant amount from the spending budget, all within the constraints of a state constitution that leaves public officials precious little flexibility in making spending cuts.

The simple, brutal truth is that Edwards and other state officials will need all the help they can get in coming up with constructive ideas for making ends meet.

This is an issue that goes well beyond this year, too.

Moving this state forward from annual budget crises to a point where we can plan years in advance for revenue and spending will require the input and buy-in of every large group in Louisiana.

The fact that Edwards is indicating he is willing to listen to such an important constituency is promising.

The challenge, of course, will quickly become following through on this promise. But the cooperative tone in itself is a great sign in the early stages of our next governor’s term.

Online:

https://www.houmatoday.com/

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Jan. 5

The New Orleans Advocate on children’s physical activity

We were heartened, in the days after Christmas, to see so many youngsters testing their new bikes on neighborhood sidewalks and in area parks. It was a welcome sign in a society that’s become too sedentary for today’s youth, with TV, online viewing and video gaming fostering a generation of couch potatoes.

Now that the holidays are over and January is in full swing, we hope those new bikes from Christmas continue to get some regular use. The benefits are obvious given Louisiana’s high rates of obesity, a problem that affects our youngest residents, too.

According to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, one in three Louisiana children is obese. Poor nutrition is a big factor, of course, but lack of exercise is the other big culprit.

In a position paper on the subject, Pennington researchers pointed out that kids between ages 1 to 3 should have at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day, and children between 3 and 5 should have at least an hour of such activity each day.

Day care centers and schools are a great place to advance that goal, although exercise at home is important, too.

Sadly, many Louisiana youngsters don’t have safe outdoor play spaces where they live. Only 62 percent of children have access to sidewalks or walking paths, and 65.5 percent of children have parks or playgrounds in their neighborhoods, according to one recent study.

The implications of that problem are clear. Kids who don’t exercise have a much higher risk of diabetes, heart problems and other health challenges down the road. That’s not something that Louisiana, already challenged by higher-than-average rates for such chronic illnesses, can afford.

Leaders in state and local government have a role to play in expanding access to play spaces for children and encouraging them to exercise. But the biggest responsibility for getting youngsters off the couch rests with parents and guardians.

Obviously, the best way to teach children the value of exercise is to lead by example. With any luck, all those New Year’s resolutions that adults made this month to exercise more will have a beneficial effect on the young ones as well.

If we want Louisiana children to keep using the bikes of yuletide, then we’ll probably have to turn off the TV, go outside and do a little pedaling ourselves.

Online:

https://www.theneworleansadvocate.com /

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