The Senate Finance Committee will weigh in Wednesday on how newly available dollars from an updated state revenue forecast should be plugged into the state budget. Senate President Cameron Henry told The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Meghan Friedmann and Elyse Carmosino the extra money will likely restore cuts included in the House’s budget proposal, including a $24 million reduction for early childhood programs.

An unexpected $89 million in anticipated spending money for the coming year will likely be used to help close that gap, Senate President Cameron Henry said in an interview last week. He also believes members will spend the extra cash on teacher stipends and on filling another $24 million hole in the state’s general education budget, he said. “Those are the three main areas,” Henry said. “And then I know the attorney general needs some additional money, the Department of Children and Family Services needs some additional money.”

Nearly 2,000 Louisiana children will lose access to early childhood education if the House’s $24 million cut is not filled. Early childhood education advocates gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to prioritize these vital programs: 

On Tuesday, [Louisiana Policy Institute for Children Libbie Sonnier] told The Advocate | The Times-Picayune that studies show children who have access to quality care and education during their first five years are more likely to read at grade level, graduate high school and obtain a four-year degree or receive postgraduate training. Those children also tend to have better health outcomes and are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. 

A recent law that treats 17-year-old children as adults in Louisiana’s criminal justice system will significantly reduce the number of juvenile offenders in state custody. But a bill working its way through the Legislature aims to expand the number of juvenile detention beds in Louisiana through a new state grant program. Advocates are concerned that leaders are trying to replicate an unusual, but lucrative policy of housing state adult prisoners in local jails. The Lens’ Nick Chrastil reports

Critics familiar with the adult system also fear that sheriffs might take similar financial shortcuts in the care of the children in their charge, increasing revenue while skimping on costs of kids’ housing and programs, including education, nutrition, and healthcare. “I’m concerned about a pay-to-play scheme, where you have municipalities opening facilities with a promise of state dollars,” said David Utter, a civil-rights attorney who has worked on juvenile-justice cases in Louisiana for several decades. “It incentivizes the sheriff paying as little as possible to house those people – because everything that it doesn’t cost him is pure profit.”

Proponents of the legislation point to a current lack of bedspace for juvenile offenders. But others believe there are better ways to reduce the backlog. 

According to the Louisiana Illuminator, last fall 77 percent of kids in secure-care facilities were there for non-violent offenses. Yet the average length of stay was close to 15 months, [Former Office of Juvenile Justice Deputy Secretary Curtis} Nelson said. 

In East Baton Rouge Parish, meanwhile, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has deemed the local jail unfit to house 17-year-olds, so instead the parish is paying $1,750 per day, per offender, to house them 200 miles away in Jackson Parish. 

Louisiana is not providing enough oversight to ensure students with disabilities are receiving legally mandated services at their schools, according to a new report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. The audit found that 40% of state school systems did not receive an inspection of their special education services from 2015 – 2022. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Patrick Wall reports how budget cuts led to this failure to serve students with disabilities. 

While the state’s monitoring appears to meet federal requirements, it is not robust enough to ensure that students receive the special education services they are entitled to under the law, according to the audit, which examined the department’s special-education monitoring from 2015-2022. Due to budget cuts during that period, the department slashed its special-education staff by nearly 70%. Today, six employees are responsible for monitoring special-education compliance in the state’s nearly 190 school districts and charter schools. 

Lawmakers recently changed a bill to ban people convicted of violent crimes, but who have been released after serving their sentence, from participating in a state program that provides access to financial support for training in high-demand jobs. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Greg LaRose pans this backward approach to rehabilitation and recidivism reduction:

The added punitive measure also confirms the dwindling rehabilitative capacity of Louisiana’s correctional system. Miguez’s move sends the message to violent offenders that not only does the state believe they are beyond help, but that the Legislature will take the extra step to ensure they will never be productive citizens. In doing so, lawmakers also increase the likelihood ex-offenders must rely on the government for some form of sustenance or, worse yet, become repeat offenders. 

98% – Percentage share of U.S. counties where Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits did not cover the cost of a moderately-priced meal. In the last quarter of 2023, there was a 53-cent gap between the $3.37 cost of a modestly priced meal, and SNAP’s average maximum benefit of $2.84. (Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)