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.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, April 16, 2014:
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.
The Appropriations Committee held public testimony day, letting people talk about what they like or don't like about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Lafayette police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old woman whose body was found early Sunday in a drainage ditch in Girard Park.
Former Grant parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley says he's running for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Vance McAllister of Swartz.
Louisiana-Lafayette got strong starting pitching and timely hitting to hold off Arkansas-Little Rock 6-3 in Sun Belt Conference baseball in Lafayette, La.
Chris Williams knows how to pilfer from the public coffers, this time with a back-pay lawsuit filed three years ago against the Lafayette Housing Authority, which netted the former city-parish councilman a cool five figures.
McAllister's office vowed that he intended to stay in office — for now. As for questions about whether he would stand for re-election in November, those were dodged.
The Green Army's Lafayette brigade has announced it will pay a visit Friday morning to Sen. Page Cortez to urge him to vote against Sen. Robert Adley's SB 553, which the group is calling the "Big Oil Bailout Bill of 2014."