Louisiana's dismal showing has been such a regular occurrence for so long that it's a foregone conclusion. Read the annual surveys and reports on Louisiana's health care, education and economic opportunities for long enough, and it's like watching an endless loop of horror and slasher movies: After a while, you become so desensitized that nothing is shocking or surprising anymore.
If there were ever a study that should shake that numbness to our core, it's the newest findings from the Southern Education Foundation. The Georgia-based charity, established in 1867, has one mission: to improve educational excellence and equity in the South. Its latest research project, titled "A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South's Public Schools," reached the following conclusion:
Eighty-four percent of Louisiana public school students live at or below the poverty line.
This must be a mistake or a typographical error. It can't possibly be true that more than 8 out of every 10 students in Louisiana's public school system come from such economic hardship ' which frequently affects academic performance ' that he or she qualifies for a free or reduced lunch. Have we failed our children so miserably that we're a mere 16 percentage points away from a scenario where all public school students spends part of their day wondering where their next meal is coming from, or whether their family can pay the rent?
"One of the reasons that number is so high is as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita," says Lauren Veasey, associate program officer for SEF. "When the students were reentered at other schools, they automatically qualified for free lunches, and now they're reclassified as low-income. The reality of the storms is they displaced not just students, but families who are still struggling after the storms."
There is no comfort in the post-storm spike. Katrina and Rita have only served to further compound a devastating legacy; when SEF conducted the same study just six years ago in 2000, it found 60 percent of Louisiana public school students at the poverty or low-income level.
The statistics for Lafayette Parish are an equally haunting indictment. According to February 2007 Louisiana Department of Education records, the number of at-risk K-12 students is 53.17 percent, with more than 13,000 students needing free lunches and more than 2,000 students needing reduced-price lunches. Surrounding parishes are also struggling: Iberia Parish has more than 64 percent of students at risk; Vermilion has 55 percent and Acadia has 64 percent.
Even the most bright-eyed optimist or generous statistician cannot escape a bleak reality: no matter how you look at the numbers, more than half of our local and statewide students face the crushing oppression of poverty.
For SEF's Veasey, part of the solution to reversing that trend is already in place. "We support efforts of increasing statewide pre-school programs like LA-4 to ensure that students are school-ready when they begin kindergarten," she says. "It's a matter of the state increasing the investment in the program and expanding access for students that are eligible for the LA-4 program."
The state-funded LA-4 (officially referred to as Louisiana Early Childhood Development and Enrichment Activity Classes) was first passed in 2001 and allows school districts to offer early childhood development and care classes for free to qualifying students. Under LA-4, programs are required to coordinate services for students and families to include health care, employment counseling, literacy services, tutoring or parental training when necessary. Students whose families' income levels surpass program requirements may also participate if their parents pay tuition.
Without prompting, Lafayette Parish Superintendent Burnell Lemoine cites L-4 as a crucial building block. "It's made a tremendous difference," he says. "Kids are getting the assistance they need to help them to be successful. There's both before- and after-school care, and it helps them with homework and getting them prepared for the day." A social worker is in place at N.P. Moss for the program's health care requirements, and Lemoine wants to see the program added to Lafayette's elementary school feeder systems. However, his voice trails off at the bureaucracy involved in such a move. "There's so many hoops you have to jump through to get that done," he says.
Lemoine and Veasey are not isolated voices. One of the cornerstones of Blueprint Louisiana's ongoing reform effort is its mission to "expand pre-kindergarten access to all 4-year-olds, and coordinate early childhood programs to establish one high-quality system." Under the current system, only 60 percent of our state's 4-year-olds are enrolled in LA-4 for 2007-2008, leaving behind thousands of children eligible for the program. "The Legislature should expand voluntary, high-quality pre-kindergarten to provide access to all 4-year-olds in the state," Blueprint writes in its mission statement. Sixty-eight candidates who signed Blueprint's reform pledge have been elected to the Legislature, with an additional 71 Blueprint candidates in the Nov. 17 runoff election.
Louisiana has no better opportunity than the present to break the cycle of at-risk students in our public school systems. Parents, legislators, school system employees and Louisiana residents alike need to sound the clarion call for widespread expansion and outreach of the LA-4 program. It's been proven time and time again that the older they get, the harder it is to reach and help at-risk students. We need to help the most vulnerable of Louisiana's public school students now ' before they wind up as forgotten statistics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, March 11, 2014:
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.