John White at Press Club 022519

State Superintendent of Education John White said Monday, Feb. 25 that, while Gov. John Bel Edwards' teacher pay raise proposal deserves praise, the budget lacks money for what White called badly-needed dollars to address Louisiana's 3,300-family waiting list for early child care and education. White made his comments to the Press Club of Baton Rouge. 

State Superintendent of Education John White said Monday the most glaring failing of Gov. John Bel Edwards' budget plan is the lack of money to address a 3,300-family waiting list for early child care and education.

White said that, without new state dollars, that waiting list will rise to nearly 10,000 families at the end of the year when a federal subsidy expires.

"This budget does not include a dime," he told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

A state advisory panel has urged the Legislature to allocate $86 million this year for children from birth to age 3, and $839 million in the next decade from a variety of sources.

The committee includes First Lady Donna Edwards as a nonvoting member.

The program with the waiting list is called the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP. It helps families pay for child care while they are working or attending school.

White said the program has shrunk from 40,000 families under former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who reduced the number of recipients, to about 15,000 today.

He said addressing the waiting list of 3,300 families would cost $15 million to $20 million while covering nearly 10,000 families would cost about $50 million per year.

In a statement the governor's office said, "Gov. Edwards and his team are currently evaluating the recent report by the Early Childhood Commission to determine possible policy changes for 2019."

"In terms of funding, the governor has prioritized increased funding for teacher and support personnel raises for 2019 and early childhood education for 2020."

The Edwards administration on Friday unveiled its spending plan for the financial year that begins July 1.

The $30 billion proposal includes revenue in dispute that has not been recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference, but may be later.

The budget includes $101 million to finance teacher pay raises of $1,000 and $500 increases for support workers, including school bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

"I appreciate the governor putting it on the table," White said.

The 2019 regular session starts April 8.

The superintendent, who has held his post since 2012, noted a bill that year aimed at unifying and improving a wide array of early childhood education programs won lopsided approval with bipartisan support but no followup. "And the Legislature has not stepped up with a dime of funding, and the budget continues that," White said.

Asked if he urged the Edwards administration to include early child care dollars in its spending plan White said, "It is not a secret to anyone that I have been advocating for more money for early childhood education since Act 3 started," a reference to the 2012 law.

"But the state has not stepped up," he said. "I don't believe my position on that is a secret to the administration or anyone else."

White said that, while 90 percent of eligible four-year-olds have access to early child education and care, only 30 percent of three-years do and 7 percent of toddlers.

Child care advocates are hoping that a bill to legalize sports betting will eventually provide a revenue stream for their cause.

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, plans to file just such a proposal and has said he is open to dedicating revenue from the games to early child care.

White noted that the effort faces multiple hurdles, including winning two-thirds support in the state House and Senate, approval in a parish-by-parish vote and questions on how the money would be allocated statewide.

A similar measure by Martiny failed last year.

The Public Affairs Research Council, whose policy director attended White's presentation, released a statement afterwards saying that dedicating sports betting revenue for early childhood education would be poor policy. "Basically the dedication idea is just a way of betting on the betting with our children used as currency," the group said.

The group that recommended $86 million for early child care and education this year is called the Early Child Care and Education Commission.

The panel, which was created by a 2018 law, wants to set up what it calls "LA B-to-3" that would gradually provide care for 114,000 of 173,000 children in need who are also generally eligible for Medicaid.

White said the state has made major strides in public education in the past seven years, including a quality curriculum, an improved career and technical education system and a record number of high school graduates with college-eligible ACT scores. "And yet Louisiana still faces grave, grave educational challenges," he said.

White said 43 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years, adding to the "churn of people in and out of the lives of our kids."

He said Louisiana is rated 50th in the U. S. in the number of young adults 16-24 who are neither employed nor in school.

"That is the cycle of poverty," White said.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.