In December 2019, cheers were heard around the state when the Louisiana Department of Education won a competitive federal Preschool Development Grant worth over $11 million a year for three years. In applying for the grant, Louisiana proposed to create 600 new seats in child care and education centers for children from birth to age three.
Make no mistake: The grant award is a significant step in the right direction and counts as another “win;” however, there are thousands of children and families who still do not have access to quality early care and education. We can and must do more for our state’s youngest citizens, from birth to age four.
A recent report released by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, “Losing Ground - How Child Care Impacts Louisiana’s Workforce Productivity and the State Economy,” found that 61% of mothers with infants in Louisiana return to work in their child’s first year of life, and 67% of children birth to age five have at least one parent in the workforce. These children need to spend a significant amount of time in child care; yet, access to affordable, quality early child care and education is limited in Louisiana. Additionally, the cost of quality child care and education is equivalent to annual college tuition, making it too expensive for the majority of families in the state.
With over 30% of children starting kindergarten behind their peers, Louisiana needs to increase access to quality early care and education for all children. However, less than 15% of eligible families with children under the age of four are able recieve any type of public funding to help secure the limited early care spots that are available. In fact, the only state public funding for early child care and education in Louisiana is the Child Care Assistance Program, which has been substantially reduced in recent years—from 40,000 children under four being served to under 17,000. What happened to those 23,000 children?
With 90% of brain development occuring between birth and age four, early care and education - and the profound effect it has on lifelong success - is too important not to prioritize. We are encouraged by recent wins in Louisiana, and we are moving in the right direction with Louisiana policymakers prioritizing early care and education reform. But the momentum to raise awareness and increase investments must continue. We must make every effort to give the youngest Louisianans the tools necessary to be prepared to grow, learn, and succeed in life — for our children and for our state.
This February 7-14 is Early Ed Week in Louisiana, a week-long series of events across the state highlighting the importance of improving access to affordable, high quality early care and education for all Louisiana’s parents. We’re joining with the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, Louisiana Association of United Ways, United Way of Acadiana, United Way of Acadiana’s Women United and United Way of Iberia to speak up in support of increased, stable funding and a reliable funding mechanism to help Louisiana’s working families afford early care and education for their children.