Over the past few weeks, donors have pledged $35,000 to help support an agency that provides training and support to people who work with Lafayette Parish preschoolers.
The donors are in line for up to $5,000 in Louisiana tax credits each as an incentive that supports child care resource and referral agencies across the state.
But ask Daniel Noel how many donors have taken advantage of the tax credit over the past few years, and the marketing development official for a Lafayette Parish preschool education agency will tell you: zero.
“People don’t know about it,” Noel said of the tax credit. “That’s why I’m here. I spoke to a room full of CPAs recently and only one had heard about it.”
Noel started the marketing job in late summer and quickly learned that his role will also be one similar to that of his small staff of co-workers: education.
“The tax credit is dollar for dollar and refundable — up to $5,000,” Noel said in his office at the Vermilion Conference Center.
The tax credits are available for donations made by businesses, individuals or groups, such as nonprofit organizations, with a Louisiana tax identification number.
“Many people don’t realize that if they do donate, their money is specifically targeting the development of quality child care in Lafayette Parish,” Noel said.
Noel works for On Track by 5 Alliance (previously Success by 5 Alliance), which provides technical assistance and support to child care centers and also provides referrals to parents seeking a center for their children.
The agency is part of the Lafayette Parish school system, which received a contract from the Louisiana Department of Education to provide services to the child care centers — now more commonly referred to as early learning centers — to focus on providing children from infants to age 4 with age-appropriate learning opportunities.
Agencies are positioned across the state to support the work of early learning centers. Some are operated by nonprofit groups and work with several parishes, while the Lafayette Parish school system created its own agency.
The agency’s staff is small — three people who work directly with the early learning centers. Noel’s position was paid through a $33,500 grant the school system received from the Pugh Family Foundation specifically to help identify potential donors.
The donations will help the staff expand its services and spend more time training those who need it, said Paula Granger, the On Track by 5 agency supervisor. There have been requests for a conference to provide additional professional development to child care workers, but there’s no funding at this time, Granger said.
“We’d also like to provide centers small grants so they can purchase learning materials and provide specific training to their staff,” she said. “The centers all could use more materials and supplies, like learning games.”
Granger and her staff provide training on age-appropriate teaching strategies, adult-child interactions that are evaluated on state assessments, and other topics, from emergency preparedness to licensing regulations and the best practices for children with special needs.
“With a little bit of help, we could spend even more time in the centers coaching and helping teachers improve,” Granger said. “If we had more time and more staff, we could provide more technical assistance and offer more job-embedded training. That’s what works.”
The tax credits for donors is part of a tax credit package approved by the Legislature in 2007. Parents can receive tax credits and child care center operators can also receive tax credits for providing services to students in foster care or whose parents receive help from the state to pay for child care.
Additionally, child care workers and directors can receive tax credits for working at a center that participates in the state’s quality rating system. Businesses can get tax credits for donating equipment.
Tax credits are also available to businesses that make contributions to their employees’ child care expenses or those made directly to the child care center for construction or equipment.
Between 2012 and 2014, donors claimed about $1.2 million in exemptions for the child care donations, according to the Louisiana Department of Revenue.
So far, Noel has $35,000 in pledges and expects more to come in at the end of the year.
“In talking to other agencies, they say that about 95 percent of their money comes in the last few weeks of December,” he said.
Between now and then, he said, he’ll continue his work educating the business community about the tax credit.
“The goal is to elevate the quality of what child care is,” Noel said. “They’re not just fed, changed and put back in bed. Our goal is to help ensure there’s age-appropriate stimulation and education.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.