We know that the years between birth and four are the most crucial for a child’s brain development. High quality care and attention during these years help build brain functions essential for learning and developing important cognitive skills. The care given during these early years sets a roadmap for the rest of each child’s life.
Sadly, childcare funding in Louisiana has been cut by almost 70% over seven years despite the fact that 66% of children age 5 and under have both parents, or their primary single parent, in the workforce. This means that childcare is a necessity for a majority of families in Louisiana. However, childcare costs almost as much as a public college tuition, with the most expensive age group being under the age of 4, which is the age group we fund the least. According to the United Way’s ALICE Report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), a Louisiana family with young children spends more on child care than any other monthly budget item, including housing or food.
For parents who can’t afford private education, the situation is even more grim. Less than 15% of low-income families with children under the age of 4 can access any publicly funded ECE programs. Thousands of families struggle to maintain steady employment or successfully complete college and workforce training programs due to lack of access to affordable, quality child care. As a result, more than 40% of our children enter Kindergarten already behind, and children who begin school behind generally stay behind. This only exacerbates the cycle of poverty for these families and their children.
Restricted access to publicly funded, quality early childhood education is an issue that affects everyone-regardless of if you pay for private education or not. High quality early childcare results in better social outcomes and lower special education placements, grade retention and drop-out rates, as well as decreased criminal justice system expenditures. These benefits result in a 7-10% annual ROI, which means more money to spend on other things.
For every $1 invested in early care and learning, there is a return of $1.78 into the local economy. Louisiana’s early care and education centers generate $830 million in direct and indirect economic activity yearly. For every job created in early care and education, 1.3 jobs are created in the local economy. Finally, big businesses and industries look for quality childcare options in addition to a well-trained and knowledge-based workforce, so let’s give it to them and help grow our economy.
We have to figure out a way to invest in our children, which is one of the reasons I created the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund. This is a bipartisan issue in with 80% of Republicans and Independents and over 90% of Democrats support, so we can definitely find a solution to achieve our goals.
Budget for mandated costs. Mandated costs like retirement and health care continue grow every year, but the Louisiana Legislature keeps budgeting like they stay the same. When you fail to budget for a 5.5% increase, you essentially make a 5.5% cut year after year.
Restore funding for children under 4 at adequate levels for low income parents who are working, looking for work, in school or training.
Focus on building capacity in high-quality child care centers
Encourage local governments to invest. We already did the hard part and created the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund. This is a state match fund that rewards local governments for investing in high quality early childhood education and expanding access to low-income families. Now we just need them to chip in and invest in our future.