Jindal wants recovery dollars for pre-k

by Heather Miller

A push by Gov. Bobby Jindal to use federal recovery money for an at-risk pre-school program is a cause of concern for one coastal legislator. Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration's answer for remedying a budget shortfall for a state program for at-risk pre-schoolers is to redirect $20 million in federal aid dollars originally intended for recovery from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Though approval to move the $20 million is pending a decision by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, state lawmakers already gave their approval in June, reports the Associated Press. That means the $20 million in hurricane recovery dollars was included in the Cecil J. Picard LA4 Early Childhood Program's $75 million annual budget for the current fiscal year, which started July 1. According to AP:
Preschool access won't expand with the money. The dollars will plug part of a budget hole created when federal stimulus funding that had been used for the program disappeared.
The state pays the costs for 16,000 4-year-olds to enroll in the pre-K program, according to Barry Landry, spokesman for the state education department. The hurricane recovery money would pay for at-risk students from 20 parishes that were damaged by Gustav and Ike, according to the proposal, which will be submitted to HUD in October.

Rep. Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette, tells AP she has nothing against the LA4 program, but describes the governor's push as a misuse of those funds. Champagne says the Department of Education should go back to the drawing board and figure out another way for filling the gaps in the LA4 program's budget.

Champagne says many of the residents in her district whose homes flooded during Ike and Gustav, as well as Hurricane Rita in 2005, still await funding to elevate their homes - delays that are largely the result of the beauracratic hoops and barrels people have had to jump through when applying for the relief money.

The funds in question, though, were distributed by HUD, while the Home Elevation Program is a FEMA-funded initiative, Michael DiResto, spokesman for the governor's division of administration, tells the IND Monthly.

Yet, Champagne tells the IND Monthly that those funds could have been used for the home elevation project, but only by approval of the state Legislature, which denied her request during this year's session.

"I really believe if we don't start using the money properly, we'll continue to have people unprotected from storms," says Champagne. "There are still unmet needs in the hurricane-related parishes. We still have hundreds of people, homeowners, that need to elevate their homes."

Paul Rainwater, commissioner of administration and Jindal's top budget advisor, defended the reallocation of the money, telling AP it will still benefit people affected by the 2008 hurricanes.

According to Rainwater, the LA4 program, like the home elevation program, aids people impacted by Ike and Gustav by providing free child care to parents out-of-work as a result of the 2008 hurricanes.

Rainwater argues that without the LA4 program, thousands of parents living in areas impacted by the hurricanes would be forced to either take on the costs of childcare themselves, or be forced to quit their jobs, thus hurting the state's workforce.

Rainwater's statement makes sense. But so does Champagnes' argument for the need to elevate homes in those affected areas.

Read the full AP article here.