Friday, July 1, 2011

One of the least educated, unhealthiest, and poorest states in the nation

The legislature did its work and went home. Louisiana has a budget - that was the main goal of this year's fiscal legislative session - but it ain't pretty.

The political posturing and crowing aside, Louisiana's $25 billion state budget leaves us "as one of the unhealthiest, least educated, and poorest states in the nation," according to this new report from the Louisiana Budget Project.

Chief among the victims of this year's budget are those least able to fend for themselves. The LA Budget Project reports that "funding for families and children that suffer from incapacitating poverty, abuse, and homelessness " was cut by some $53 million for the coming fiscal year. That means Governor Jindal has sliced the Department of Children and Family Services by 40 percent since coming into office.

Higher education has borne the brunt of Louisiana's budget problems for the pat few years, having been cut by $491 million during Jindal's term. This year, in order to claim that funding for higher education has been protected, lawmakers and the governor raised tuition and fees for students. This, they claim, does not amount to a tax increase.

Then there's K-12 education. The governor and his allies like to claim that they did not cut funding for public schools, but that is a prevarication at best.

Public education's Minimum Foundation Program base per-pupil amount has been frozen for three years, while costs have risen dramatically. That amounts to a cut all by itself.

But cuts outside the MFP have strained some local school board budgets close to the breaking point. The governor cut $5.5 million for nationally certified teacher stipends, and $7.2 million more for the transportation of private and religious school students. The governor also cut nearly $70 million in state funding for classroom technology, student remediation, and reading and math initiatives - programs that local school systems will either have to eliminate or fund themselves.

LBP's report further slams state leaders for reductions in health care and youth services.

But the worst news in the report is that lawmakers and Jindal once again cobbled together a budget that depends on one-time money and millions "swept" from existing funds. So without facing the real issue and identifying revenues that can fill the recurring budget gap, we will all be in the same leaky boat when the legislature convenes again next spring.

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