The vast majority of brain development occurs before children turn five, making access to high-quality early care and education programs essential for future academic success. This access also enables working parents, especially working moms, to stay in the workforce. Melanie Bronfin, founder of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, in a letter to The Advocate, explains the huge return on investment of public dollars in early care and education.

The brain develops like a house is built — with the foundation being established in the first years of life, and all else built on top of that. This is why children who start school behind so often remain behind. This is also why so many attributes that we want in adults need to begin in young children — the ability to follow directions, regulate emotions, work on a team, and more. … Louisiana struggles to rank well on so many critical indicators of quality of life. If we are going to start making progress where it really counts, we need to invest in education in general, especially for our youngest children.

Voters should ask candidates the hard questions
A recent poll found that crime is the top issue for Louisiana voters heading into the upcoming fall elections. However, recent political rhetoric on crime represents a shift in a state where lawmakers of both political parties and voters recently approved historic – and effective – criminal justice reforms. An Advocate editorial urges voters to ask candidates for specifics if they favor repealing or watering down these reforms. 

But these are not easy problems to solve, even with all the lock-‘em-up rhetoric making the rounds at candidate forums. After all, locking up too many people remains a crippling financial burden, and one that experts say requires the alternative approach embodied in Louisiana’s 2017 bipartisan criminal justice reforms, which aimed to reduce the state’s outsized incarceration rate. The reforms have been rightly praised, but if the candidates have better ideas, a lot more specificity is required.

A completely preventable health crisis
Many states have shamefully high infant mortality rates, and Louisiana is second only to Mississippi in infant deaths. While the death toll is bleak across all demographics, Black babies die preventable deaths at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Kaiser Health News’ Sandy West traveled to Houston, Texas to examine this completely preventable health crisis:

Such deaths are often called “deaths of disparity” because they are likely attributable to systemic racial disparities. Regardless of economic status or educational attainment, the stress from experiencing persistent systemic racism leads to adverse health consequences for Black women and their babies, according to a study published in the journal Women’s Health Issues. These miscarriages and deaths can occur even in communities that otherwise appear to have vast health resources.

Covid learning loss
Last year’s scores on the “nation’s report card” showed the largest single-year drop in math in more than 50 years and were the latest indicators that efforts to combat the massive learning loss sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic have been unsuccessful so far. The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg interviewed Thomas J. Kane, the Walter H. Gale professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education about what parents should ask about the loss, especially as schools face a September 2024 deadline to spend remaining pandemic relief funds. 

What policy changes are going to be needed? Anything that requires legislation, or a school board vote, needs to start now. One of the challenges so far has been most districts have been trying to catch up in every grade and every subject simultaneously. And efforts are really spread thin. If we were to concentrate in a particular grade level and catch up kids who are still behind as of the end of eighth grade, that’s one option we ought to be thinking about — but also an optional fifth grade of high school or a free first year in community college to help kids fill in gaps. We can’t start that conversation a year from now, because the clock is ticking, and kids continue graduating.

Number of the Day
3.6 – The increased likelihood that a Black baby in Louisiana will die from premature birth and low birth weight compared to their white counterparts. (Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention via The Advocate)