Legislators might not admit to seeing it this narrowly, but Louisiana parents of children up to age 3 are once again in the state budget crosshairs. This has been going on for eight years because state funding for early child care and education programs in our state has been cut by 70 percent in that time.
What that means for parents who work and have toddlers is that they pay more for care that might not involve quality employees. That is because there are no state funds to offset the cost of operating such child care centers, and there is even less money to encourage quality training.
There is a bit of good news: The Legislature did create School Readiness Tax Credit programs. This legislation has become a national model of success for these reasons:
• Nearly 14,500 families claimed the tax credit to fund early child care for their infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers;
• The percentage of children receiving subsidies who are enrolled in higher-quality child care centers doubled since the start of the program in 2008;
• The number of higher-quality centers in the state more than doubled under the tax credit program;
• The number of child care staff enrolled in professional development courses increased from more than 1200 to over 5800 individuals.
The bad news is the tax credits barely scratch the surface of need in our state.
“Parents who work in Louisiana are struggling to afford early child care and education. It is a need that everyone pays for, and in the average case, costs almost as much as a college education each year,” said Louisiana Policy Institute for Children Director Melanie Bronfin.
While the state of Louisiana has taken one step forward with the tax credits, here’s hoping the Louisiana Policy Institute will remind Louisiana Legislators about the need to invest directly in early childhood care and education for working families. Given that over 66 percent of Louisiana children have both parents in the workforce, this is a proven a game-changer. If you can’t afford quality care for your toddler, you can’t work. Or you show up late. Or you turn down a promotion.
This is a serious issue for parents and employers. The state of Louisiana should support the continuation of the School Readiness Tax Credits or even strengthen them. But imagine what could happen if all funds were restored?