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Jindal seeks to redirect hurricane relief funding

1st October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is seeking to shore up the state’s early childhood education program for low-income preschoolers by diverting $20 million in federal disaster aid to the Cecil J. Picard Early Childhood Program. Jindal announced the proposal Sept. 26 and is awaiting approval of the plan from federal regulators who oversee the state’s disaster funding.

Louisiana continues to grapple with budget shortfalls and the state has sought to find creative ways to finance its operations or jettison funding requirements altogether. But the LA4 program is a popular initiative that has received the governor’s support in the past.

Earlier this year, state officials proposed using $33 million in community development block grants to boost the program. The current proposal, while smaller, still has the governor’s support and will be used to pay for preschool education for four-year-olds in parishes affected by hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

“I feel bad because I don’t want to say that people affected by these disasters don’t deserve the money, but education is key,” says Rochelle Wilcox, who directs Wilcox Academy on N. Broad Street. Wilcox says half of all of her students are LA4 recipients and that any funding shortage for the program could cause “40 kids to go without a quality education.”

Under the program, the state pays for almost 20,000 children to receive before- and after-school lessons and the initiative, which started in 2001, has a budget this year of more than $70 million.

“This is important because it allows students to receive a quality education who might not otherwise be able to afford it,” according to Linda McMillian who runs McMillian’s First Steps Child Care on S. Claiborne Ave. “They have been taking so much away from education and to find a way to keep it where it is now is important. Children must have an education so that they can grow up and get a job and be successful members of society.”

But the governor’s plan requires approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jindal’s office has expressed confidence that it can use federal relief dollars for preschool funding because the monies will be allocated for students in parishes affected by hurricanes.

Jindal’s proposal to HUD outlines the effect losing money for the LA4 program could have on low-income families, citing the “thousand of households” that would struggle to afford enrichment programs for their children.

But Beth Butler, who directs special projects for A Community Voice, says the governor’s plan hurts households in need of disaster relief. “This is robbery,” Butler says. “They turned people down who were seeking money to rebuild because they are going to redirect it to LA4.” Butler says the governor’s reduction in corporate taxes has caused the funding shortfall for the program. “Why are we using federal dollars to pay for something that should be coming from our own tax base?” she asks. “I don’t understand why HUD would consider this.”

Officials with the federal housing agency have not stated when the government will make a decision on the plan.

This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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