In spite of programs offered by public school districts, many families in Louisiana still aren't able to take advantage of early education for their preschoolers.

More than half of young children in Louisiana are in some kind of child care center setting, most of them privately run, and many more would like to have that option, but can’t afford it, according to the state Department of Education.

Meanwhile, the call is going out on the importance of early education.

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which educates about 2,000 children in its pre-Ks, this month is holding early registration for families with children who will be 4-years-old on Sept. 30. The families can apply for spots in one of East Baton Rouge’s 46 publicly funded prekindergarten centers.

East Baton Rouge Parish school system officials are also bringing other childcare providers to its early registration events to explain their program. Those providers include City of Baker public schools, operators of local Head Start and Early Head Starts, as well privately run childcare centers.

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Members of Louisiana’s Chambers of Commerce and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, as well as several legislators, are holding their own events this week. They are dubbing it Louisiana Early Ed Week and plan to make it an annual affair. They describe it as an effort to “increase understanding about and highlight the importance of access to high-quality early care and education for children birth through age four across Louisiana.”

On Wednesday, these dignitaries filled the small hallways and sat in the tiny chairs at Fundamentals for Early Learning, just off O’Neal Lane.

The state of Louisiana has made that child care even less affordable over the past few years by slashing its funding for the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP. That reduced the number of children served from about 40,000 to about 17,000 children currently, with more than 3,000 children on waiting lists for CCAP slots.

“The question is, where did those 23,000 children go?" Meghan Garretson, the center’s director, said as she led the tour Wednesday.

Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said many parents are relying on family members to fill the gap, but these parents would love to have more options.

Garretson said that when her center opened in 2011, it had 30 CCAP children; that number has shrunk to just six.

“When we lost those children, we had to raise our tuition,” Garretson said; current tuition ranges from $8,300 to $10,660 a year.

Even with such high tuition, Garretson said, she has very small profit margins and is continually hunting to find teachers, who are routinely lured away to higher paying teaching jobs in public schools.

Garretson's center holds about 100 children, and has a long waiting list that stretches to 2019.

Her center’s most coveted spots are for 10 infants. The infant room on Wednesday was decorated in Mardi Gras colors and renamed the “Krewe of Infants.”

Infant care is the most in demand age for child care, but it has the most requirements and requires the most staff, one for every five children.

Garretson, who is seven months pregnant, plans to send her own child here. Eventually. She has to wait as well.

“I won’t even be able to send my old child here right away.”

Instead, she said, her mother is going to help her care for the newborn.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.