Members of the New Orleans City Council are calling for the city to spend $750,000 next year to provide 100 new slots for children in day cares and pre-K programs.
The plan, announced at a press conference Wednesday, would have the city provide money to supplement a state program to increase access to early childhood education programs.
Existing programs provide publicly funded spots for some children but leave more than 10,000 at-risk children in the city without access to such education, advocates say.
"This is about us putting our most vulnerable folks on the best track of success that we possibly can," Councilman Jason Williams said.
New Orleans will largely be carrying over its existing budget into 2018, Mayor Mitch Landrie…
While the proposal has support from a majority of the City Council — Councilwoman Stacy Head and Councilmen Jared Brossett and James Gray were also at Wednesday's event — it appears it might run into problems getting the support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration.
"We have certainly had many discussions with the two at-large council members (Williams and Head), but there are many priorities the city has, and we'd be interested to know where they propose taking money from in the budget to make it a reality or what new revenue they support so as to not cut core services residents demand," Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said in an emailed statement.
Williams said the council is committed to the issue and will work to find the money in the budget.
"There is no reason to pit children against drainage. There is no reason to pit children against police pay raises," Williams said. "Those are the things that keep us apart. Our goal is to bring us together around something that we can all agree on. We have ignored this for too long; 2017 is the year to deal with it."
The City Council has not traditionally funded early childhood programs. But Head, who has pushed for such funding in recent years, said that new limits on the money available from the state and federal governments made it important for the city to step in.
Council members promoted the program, which would be available to children 4 and younger, as a way of improving academic performance later in life and giving working families a way to provide childcare.
"We are investing in children now so we don’t have to invest in criminal justice systems later," Head said.
Williams said council members are talking with the administration to determine where the money for the program will come from. The city's $647 million spending plan for 2018 must be adopted by the council by Dec. 1.
Council members referred to the proposed program as an initial step that can be expanded on in future budgets. Over the longer term, they suggested, such programs could be aided with money from nonprofit foundations or from the state.
The idea of putting city dollars into early childhood education was first broached by Stand For Children this year.
While there are almost 5,200 publicly funded spots locally in early childhood education programs — more than 3,000 of which are for 4-year-olds getting ready for kindergarten — the group said that leaves almost 12,000 at-risk young children without publicly funded child care.
"This is about critical investments for our children," Brossett said. "What are our priorities? What does government value?"
"We often talk about the problems this city faces," he added. "If we want to address those problems such as poor health, dropout rates and crime, we have to start with the children of this city."