While state tax credits are under scrutiny amid budget problems, child care advocates said Tuesday the subsidies have resulted in better care, more qualified teachers and federal dollars.
"The bottom line is they have been incredibly successful on what we hoped they would do," said Melanie Bronfin, executive director for the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children in New Orleans.
Bronfin's group issued a report this week that said the aid – called school readiness tax credits – has helped 14,500 low-income families finance care for their infants, toddlers and pre-school students.
The percentage of children getting subsidies enrolled in higher quality child care centers has doubled, the report says, and child care staff enrolled in professional development courses rose from about 1,200 to 5,800.
The study was released as lawmakers and others begin grappling with how to tackle Louisiana's latest budget crisis, including another daunting shortfall for the financial year that begins July 1.
The financial mess has put tax credits under heightened scrutiny in the scramble to save dollars.
While many families struggle to pay for child care, "Louisiana's fiscal crisis has called into question the purpose and effectiveness of all its tax credits," according to the report. The credits cost the state about $16 million per year, officials said.
However, backers of the tax credits scored a victory when a 13-member task force on how to change tax policies recommended that the assistance be left in place.
In a report, the panel said the credits makes sense "in part because these programs help all families and improve educational outcomes, and in part because they leverage federal money." The subsidies have helped the state qualify for an $80 million federal grant, according to the study.
There was some sentiment on the task force to recommend that the credits be dumped.
Barry Erwin, a member of the group, said it is clear that the credits are part of a key state goal.
"We have a policy in our state that we are trying to promote early education and also improve the quality of it, even for children at very early ages," Erwin said Tuesday.
"This is a really important part of the policy," he said. "And I think it has a good track record."
Erwin is president of the Council for a Better Louisiana.
One of the credits offers child care centers up to $1,500 per student if the centers achieve certain quality ratings.
Another provides child care teachers and directors up to $3,260 for credentials earned.
A third credit assists low-income families who use centers that meet certain standards for children under 6.
Those credits averaged $223 in 2014, according to the report.
Bronfin said the credits, which were enacted in 2008, are especially needed after huge drops in another child care program for low-income families.
A state panel Thursday recommended easing eligibility rules for low-income families to quali…
Enrollment in that effort, called the Child Care Assistance Program, has fallen 68 percent since 2008 amid state budget troubles.
CCAP helps pay for the cost of child care for children from birth to 4 years old while parents are at work, school in job training.