Louisiana understands how vital early care and education is for our children, our workers, and our businesses. This is a bipartisan issue that sets children up for success and has a huge rate of return on investment. It’s time for Congress to take note.

U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, should look to state leadership to see how bipartisan wins are possible at the federal level. Before the pandemic, Louisiana’s Republican Legislature and Democratic Gov.John Bel Edwards worked together to allocate $18 million dollars to early care and education. As the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that early care and education is a lifeline for families and businesses, state policymakers worked in a bipartisan fashion in the 2021 session to secure sports betting revenue as a funding source for early childhood education.

While we have been encouraged to see early care and education included in federal recovery packages, we need representatives on Capitol Hill to set aside partisan differences and deliver long-term results for children.

With 90% of brain development occurring before age five, we must grow our capacity of high-quality early care and education to ensure that it is accessible to every child, allowing them to get the best possible start in life. Currently, 60% of children arrive underprepared to kindergarten, meaning our teachers are in remediation-mode on day one.

Two-thirds of Louisiana children under the age of 5 have both parents — or their single parent — in the workforce. These thousands of parents rely on early care and education options.

And it’s not just kids and families who depend on early care and education. Louisiana suffers a $1.3 billion economic loss every year due to child care issues. According to a report from the Louisiana Early Childhood Care and Education Commission, the future can play out in one of two ways. If policymakers sufficiently fund early care and education, Louisiana will receive a $1.8 billion economic gain over the next ten years. If they kick the can down the road, we will suffer a $12 billion economic loss.

This isn’t a tough decision. A Louisiana Policy Institute for Children survey found that 80% of voters agree that spending on early care and education is a good investment. The survey also found that 53% of respondents acknowledged that child care costs are one of their biggest expenses.

Child care has always been imperative and it’s beyond time that we fund it adequately. It’s an investment that yields an immediate return for today’s workforce and enhances future growth and opportunities for children — the workforce of the future. Voters agree. The state Legislature agrees. It’s time for Congress to get on board, reach across the aisle and find solutions. This is the most urgent issue facing children, families, and our future state economies.

Libbie Sonnier is executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. Christy Gleason is executive director of Save the Children Action Network.