Gov. Edwards highlights early childhood education, Medicaid at Alexandria Rotary
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - On Tuesday, March 28, Gov. John Bel Edwards stopped by the Rotary Club of Alexandria, giving Rotarians a look at the work his administration has done over the past seven years and what he looks to get done in his remaining nine months in office.
That work will really get underway in two weeks when legislators convene for the 2023 Regular Legislative Session, the last of Edwards’ tenure. It is a fiscal session, and Edwards has proposed a $45.7 billion budget.
The state will be working with a $726 million surplus and $1.5 billion in state revenue.
Among the items the governor wants to see receive significant investments is education. In 2022, the state legislature met Edwards’ request for a $1,500 teacher pay raise. This year, he is looking for them to do that again, this time with at least $2,000 for teachers and $1,000 for support staff.
Teacher retention is a challenge Louisiana continues to experience, and many lawmakers agree with Edwards that pay plays a factor in keeping them in the classroom.
“We’re in competition with other states for teachers, and the southern regional average has to mean something,” said Edwards. “If you’re well below the average and people can look to Texas and Arkansas and Mississippi and so forth as to where they can go with their teaching certificates and get more money, then you know that that’s where many of them are gonna go even though we have our own shortage.”
In addition to teacher pay, education advocates and Edwards are pushing for significant investments in early childhood education programs.
If $200 million is not renewed for early education programs (children four and under) in the state in the upcoming legislative session, an estimated 16,000 children statewide, and more than 200 children in Central Louisiana, could lose access to a quality learning environment for their time prior to primary school.
COVID-19 funding is set to leave the state’s surplus this session, and advocates want to make sure children get their fair share. They are asking for $315 million for education programs. In his budget, Edwards proposes $51.7 million to start, with the hopes that legislation will be introduced to provide more funding to meet the need to maintain the programs.
“The truth is, we do about as good a job as anybody educating those who show up ready to learn, but we have way too many of our students who are not prepared to learn,” explained Edwards. “So early childhood education is critically important. The budget I have proposed has the largest amount of state general fund in our history for early childhood education, and that’s critically important.”
Meanwhile, some Louisiana residents on Medicaid may soon lose their eligibility for the program due to the passage of the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Medicaid has significantly expanded over Edwards’ tenure in the governor’s seat, and he warned Rotary members that cuts to the program would be detrimental to all involved in the medical field.
“When a hospital closes, It doesn’t just close for the poor, the uninsured or the Medicaid population, although that would be awfully tragic. It closes for everybody,” said Edwards.
Edwards told Rotarians that the state could not afford to not expand Medicaid, which he said not only benefits the state’s budget and providers but especially those Louisiana citizens in need of the coverage.
“They can be healthy here. They’re gonna work longer. They’re gonna work more days. They’re gonna support and better themselves and their families and have a higher quality of life,” the governor said.
Medicaid could end for some enrollees who qualified for the program due to special COVID-19 circumstances. In April, Medicaid will begin reviewing enrollees and their qualifications. About 40% of Louisiana residents are currently in the program.
The Louisiana Department of Health has begun the process of notifying enrollees of the changes. Those on Medicaid should receive a pink letter in the mail to send back correct contact information. This is the first step in the unenrollment process.
Medicaid expansion has been controversial for Edwards’, as he was met with pushback from some conservative lawmakers on the issue. However, he emphasized that he cannot imagine the next governor, regardless of party affiliation, coming in a rolling back the expansions.
For more on the Medicaid cuts, CLICK HERE.
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