Several candidates are lining up to run for State Representative from District 17; this is an extremely important position for our people because District 17 and 16 produce African-American representatives.
Rep. Katrina Jackson is expected to run for State Senate, meaning her District 16 seat will be empty. Next year, there will be at least two representative seats open and our community needs its best minds out front.
What the are primary concerns of state legislators who represent poor people and minorities? There are many, but here is a short list of concerns:
HEALTH CARE: Our representatives should work to insure that the poor have access to medical care through the state’s system of public hospitals. Funding for Medicaid and other assistance to insure that hospital care for the poor should be a priority.
EDUCATION: The state’s education system needs serious review from the formulas used to fund poor districts to teacher salaries. Areas such as Morehouse Parish that has suffered from plant shutdowns should have adjusted formulas to insure quality public education. As it stands now, Morehouse middle class parents have pulled out, started their own chartered system, and left the minorities to struggle with under-financed programs. The problem needs addressing.
The state needs to revisit whether the Common Core Curriculum is helping students or frustrating them. The program promotes technical math and reading but deemphasizes art, music, literature, dance and the performing arts. As a result students are being encouraged to read for test taking purposes but not for higher learning. They are not encouraged to read or write in cursive, or learn history, social studies and government; failing in any of these areas is no big deal. This is real problem that should be addressed.
In addition, present state law rewards high schools that push students into a career track by giving big bonuses for each student who receives a “career diploma” that cannot be used for four-year college entry. It’s a problem if schools get 25 extra points for a student who gets a GED but up to 150 points for a career diploma.
The irony is that 97% of colleges in America will accept a GED, no four-year college will accept a “career diploma.” The career diploma should not receive any more points than a GED. Too many poor children are being steered away from higher education. Our representatives should push for increased funding for extra education efforts at the K-3 level emphasizing reading skills.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The criminal justice system in the state impacts poor people, both black and white. The state has developed a well-greased plan to profit from suspects and defendants.
Thousands of inmates are victims to literal robbery by sheriff’s in every parish using the work release program. Inmates are allowed to work at local commercial businesses which pay regular wages. However, most inmates will only receive about 25 percent or less of their pay. The sheriff’s charge them for their soap, toilet paper, supervision, transportation, and in some cases cell rent that usually eats up their paychecks. An inmate who works for years is finally released broke because the local enforcement agency robbed them legally.
Adding insult to injury, inmates are charged excessive amounts, sometimes 200 percent over costs for chips, candy, and writing paper. Law enforcement agencies have contracts with companies that charge excessively for phone calls, and unbelievably high rates for wireless contacts with family. Add that to excessively high bonds paid for non-violent offenses, the system profits immensely from those who are its wards.
The list of criminal justice reforms needed is too long for this article, but it’s obvious that the persons elected to represent the poor need to be ready to go to war with those who profit from the system to get some type of relief.
A state representative from either District 16 or 17 needs to serious about these issues. The poor people who will elect them will be counting on them to be their voice in Baton Rouge.