- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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March 10

The Courier of Houma on Louisiana’s juvenile justice system:

Louisiana has a problem with its juvenile justice system, and things could be about to get a lot worse.



This should concern anyone who cares about our young people who end up behind bars.

Louisiana has made some important headway in getting past the days of just locking up juveniles and forgetting about them. Reforms enacted in the early 2000s put more focus on treatment than on punishment, a big step forward.

But critics say our state’s juvenile jails are still chaotic, dangerous places. And they are about to get a lot more residents.

Last week, Louisiana embarked on implementing the new ‘Raise the Age’ law. That effort will eventually remove 17-year-olds from the adult justice system and place them with the other juveniles. But as that happens, it will be crucial for the juvenile facilities to be adequate and safe.

“Although we have come a long way in the past two decades, numerous recent public accounts of violence in secure care facilities raise concerns about the safety of the youth and staff in those facilities,” says a report by the Task Force on Secure Care Standards and Auditing.

The report cited a “glaring gap in oversight of Louisiana’s secure care facilities” and recommended more safety inspections.

This will become even more important as the prison population increases.

Already, though, there are concerns. The two largest juvenile jails, Swanson Center in Monroe and Bridge City Center outside New Orleans, have come under fire for the hundreds of reports of violence at each facility last year alone.

There has been progress in getting almost half the current detainees released, a process that should return some positives for the children and their families.

But Louisiana cannot simply add more teens into a system that is having more than its share of problems with the prisoners it has.

Online: https://www.houmatoday.com/

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March 13

The Advocate on increasing Louisiana’s gasoline tax:

Talking to a room full of business people, Shawn Wilson had a simple statement: “I challenge any business to charge what you charged in 1989, and still stay in business.”

That’s what DOTD, the state Department of Transportation and Development, has been doing for years, said Wilson, a civil servant in the agency and now Gov. John Bel Edwards’ top appointee there.

His comment to a statewide economic development forum in Baton Rouge underlined the problem of road and bridge maintenance and repair, much less expanding capacity where it is needed in growing parts of the state.

He was only one of several speakers to address infrastructure at the meeting, but his position and the political challenge of raising the gasoline tax - last raised in 1989, undermined by inflation since - is perhaps the most pressing legislative issue for anyone interested in seeing Louisiana’s economy expand.

If there is not more money from the gasoline tax, how will roads and bridges get by?

Infrastructure “is fundamental to economic development,” said Tim Barfield, a business leader who previously served in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican.

Still, opposition from anti-tax GOP legislators and pressure groups like Americans for Prosperity - they’ve never met a tax that they liked, it seems - blocked an effort to bring the gasoline tax up to its pre-inflation purchasing power.

Wilson had a good story to tell, in that DOTD has been doing some innovative financing on several key projects. A public-private partnership and new federal aid will deal with the Belle Chasse bridge and tunnel; borrowing against future federal funds will speed up major projects in Shreveport and Baton Rouge, as well as New Orleans, where there will be a better Interstate 10 connection for the new airport terminal.

With the aid of Louisiana’s delegation in Congress, DOTD has also snared money for I-10 improvements between Lafayette and the Atchafalaya Basin, as well as for Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish.

All these good things don’t add up to stable long-term funding that can address the thousands of bridges that need work. It’s also the state’s responsibility to maintain roads and highways built with significant levels of federal funds, so gasoline tax dollars are essential.

Online: https://www.theadvocate.com/

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March 13

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on federal funding for after-school programs:

For the third time, the Trump administration is trying to zero out federal funding for afterschool programs nationwide.

Congress has stopped that move twice and should do it again this year. Louisiana’s congressional delegation ought to understand the importance of these education programs to the state’s children.

Sydni Dunn, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Education, put it simply: “We oppose cuts to education opportunities for Louisiana’s children.” She said the department is reviewing President Donald Trump’s proposed budget “to understand its implications on a range of issues.”

The impact of the loss of federal afterschool funding is clear.

This year, 25,529 children are enrolled in a 21st Century Community Learning Center program, according to the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance. Those are the federally funded before-school, afterschool and summer learning programs for low-income students. The state is getting $25.5 million for those children, Afterschool Alliance says on its website.

Nationwide, 1.7 million children are in federally funded afterschool programs.

Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, said in a statement Monday: “If Congress agrees to the President’s FY2020 budget proposal to eliminate federal funding for afterschool, programs will close. Young children will be left without supervision. Working families will face untenable choices about how to ensure the safety of their children in the afternoon hours and over the summer. Learning opportunities will be squandered. Children, families and our economy will lose out.”

In Louisiana, this money provides afterschool care for low income families. Those afterschool programs give kids help with academics, keep them safe and fed and help their parents manage childcare and their jobs.

There are scant resources here that do all of that.

The Afterschool Alliance says 115,540 Louisiana students are enrolled in afterschool programs, but another 256,040 are waiting for services.

Louisiana is already struggling to find money to provide preschool to children age 3 and under. Preschool advocates are asking for $86 million per year to create seats for low income children.

It would be difficult to try to replace the $25 million in federal afterschool funding as well.

Afterschool programs are important to Louisiana’s effort to improve students’ academic performance.

SEDL, which formerly was known as the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, did a study of the Louisiana Department of Education’s afterschool offerings. Researchers found that students in the programs - which include the federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers - scored higher on math and English language arts. They also had fewer absences from school and fewer disciplinary problems than students who weren’t in afterschool programs, the study found.

A nationwide study of students at 21st Century Community Learning Centers found similar results: Most students did better in class and in finishing their homework and their behavior improved, according to Afterschool Alliance. Nearly half had better math and English grades.

The Trump budget proposal claims the U.S. Department of Education programs that are targeted either do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, “are ineffective, are poorly targeted,” or should be paid for by state, local, or private funds.

That isn’t true of afterschool programs. There is a need nationwide, there is already a shortage of programs and, at least in Louisiana, there is no other money available for them.

Congress hasn’t bought into the administration’s attempts to do away with afterschool programs. In fact, they’ve increased funding.

Louisiana’s delegation should help make sure these services aren’t lost this year either.

Online: https://www.nola.com/

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