A Louisiana Senate committee has scaled back legislation that would create a new TOPS-like entitlement program for families that send their children to private schools. The budget-writing Senate Finance Committee amended a bill that creates new Education Savings Accounts amid criticism that it would come with exorbitant costs and siphon off state dollars that support public schools. The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports: 

 On Monday, Sen. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, proposed a complete overhaul of the plan he sponsored, which would put tax dollars into “education savings accounts,” or ESAs, that parents could spend on tuition. Instead of creating an ESA program, the revised Senate bill would require the state to first gather relevant information. Then the state board of education would be authorized, but not required, to set up the program.

The ESA bill has been a top priority for conservative pressure groups and Gov. Jeff Landry. But independent analysts have pegged the eventual cost of the program at more than $500 million per year. 

The spending bills that make up the state budget are at the halfway point – having cleared the House last week –  and so far things aren’t looking great for the state’s youngest learners. Access to high-quality early care and education programs for children 0-3 is essential for future success, but the Legislature has never provided funding to ensure such programs are available to every family in need. Now, as The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Clancy DuBos explains, some families might lose access to services they currently have: 

The bad news came when Appropriations Committee members — and then the full House — cut $24 million from the day care subsidies. (Libbie) Sonnier (of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children)  said cutting that amount will affect more than 1,900 infants and toddlers currently in day care, in addition to the 6,500 on waiting lists. She added that it’s disappointing that “the young children of Louisiana are first on the chopping block.” 

The Public Affairs Research Council’s Melinda Deslatte explains how lawmakers are proposing to drain an already insufficient fund that provides matching state dollars for local spending on early learning programs:

The fund doesn’t contain enough money to provide the needed match for local government early childhood programs in future years, and the House proposes to make the problem worse by allowing the state’s LA 4 program that provides preschool to 4-year-olds to tap into the fund. The House budget doesn’t propose to use the early childhood fund for the LA 4 program in the upcoming year, but language broadening the use of the fund could undermine its purpose and discourage local investment in early learning programs. Other dollars should pay for LA 4, not this fund.

The Revenue Estimating Conference could make more money available to legislators when it updates the official revenue forecast in the coming weeks. 

The dearth of details surrounding Gov. Jeff Landry’s proposed constitutional convention is preventing state fiscal analysts from determining how much the effort will cost. The governor is calling for legislators to rewrite the state’s founding charter in the chaotic final two weeks of the legislative session, but hasn’t said what he wants to change. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports:

The event would be expected to cost at least $62,829 to cover a $179 daily payment made to Landry’s 27 appointed convention delegates during its two-week run. A state audit of the convention could also cost an additional $20,000 to $30,000, depending on the scope of the work, according to the report.But several other potential expenses – such as materials, security and legislative staff compensation – haven’t been worked out yet. 

The actual cost of convening a constitutional convention isn’t the only unknown surrounding this misguided effort: 

Several Democratic legislators also raised questions during a hearing Monday about what type of private funding might be used. The constitutional convention bill contains language that would allow outside money to help fund the event, but Rep. Beau Beaullieu, R-New Iberia, the legislation’s sponsor, said in an interview he expects to remove the private funding provision before next week. 

Leaders of Xavier University and Ochsner Health announced a formal agreement on Monday for a new medical school in New Orleans. The Xavier Ochsner College of Medicine will be just the fourth medical school to be operated by a historically Black university in the United States, and the first in the Gulf South. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Desiree Stennett has the details:

The medical school, which will be operated by a nonprofit formed by Ochsner and Xavier, is the continuation of a years long relationship between the two institutions that has already resulted in a successful pharmacy school, a physician’s assistant program, and a health equity institute, said Pete November, Ochsner Health CEO. It will still be several years before students can enroll at the new college of medicine. 

Xavier University’s President Dr. Reynold Verret, in a guest column for The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, explains how the new school will target racial gaps in health care: 

According to the AAMC report, Black people who reside in counties with higher percentages of Black physicians have increased life expectancy rates. Another study quantified this benefit and estimates that, on average, “every 10% increase in the representation of Black primary care physicians was associated with 30.6 days of greater life expectancy among Black people in that county.” Quite simply, representation saves lives. 

40% – Percentage point increase in accidental overdose deaths for pregnant or recently pregnant women in Louisiana from 2017 through 2020. (Source: Louisiana Department of Health)