Making early childhood education a priority

This week, we created the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund through my bill, HB 584. This creates a state match fund, which rewards local governments for investing in high quality early childhood education and expanding access to low-income families.

Science shows that brain development from the ages of 0 to 3 is crucial and a foundation of quality early learning leads to greater success in kindergarten and higher graduation rates. But in Louisiana, quality child care assistance has been cut by 70% since 2008, while the number of households with both parents in full employment has grown to 70%, making the need for such care even greater.

But this is no small expense-quality child care is close to the average cost of public college tuition. Less than 15% of low-income families with children under age 4 can access any publicly funded early childhood programs. So those parents make a decision and do the best they can, often forced to send their children to low quality care centers, if anywhere at all. And now, 40% of our children enter kindergarten already behind, making it nearly impossible for those students to catch up and perpetuating the cycles of poverty.

Early childhood education is not only critical to a child’s success in school, but also in future outcomes of social behavior. At a time when we are suffering unusually high rates of homicide and violence, we can’t start at the moments of tragedy-they are now upon us and far too frequent. We have to start from the beginning.

The beginning is when our children are impressionable and their brains are still forming, when they need attention and stimulation. Ages 0-4 are when they should be nurtured, not abandoned. Just as our needs at this age are universal, the direct and indirect effects of poor early childhood education affect everyone in the community.

This has been a hard week for us to watch the news and, in many neighborhoods, to walk out of our front doors. The violence is deafening and the despair is palpable, but I have always firmly believed that early childhood education is the single most important investment our state can make that can and will have a dramatic impact on all of our lives. The Early Childhood Education Fund is my offer of hope and an opportunity for us to start from the beginning, where it truly matters.