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Dr. Libbie Sonnier-Netto, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children

The future of Louisiana depends on how willing and able we are to care for and prepare our youngest citizens to be successful in school and in life. During this election, candidates can make a positive impact on our state by committing to invest in early care and education. Given that 90% of brain development occurs from birth through age 4, investing in high-quality early education ensures that children begin school on grade-level, families are productive in the workforce, and our local economies thrive.

Right now, 35% of Louisiana children enter kindergarten behind their peers. In 2012, Louisiana mandated a complete overhaul of our early care and education system, Act 3. Today, we are ranked 8th in the nation for the effectiveness and efficiency of our accountability system for these programs, including pre-K, Head Start and child care. Though we now have a strong accountability system and higher quality programs, Act 3 was an unfunded mandate, and the state has significantly cut funding for early care and education over the last decade. In 2019, the bipartisan Louisiana Early Childhood Care and Education Commission called for the state to make a substantial investment in early care and education each year for the next 10 years.

The cost of child care in Louisiana now exceeds $7,500 a year. The Childcare Assistance Program has been substantially cut, and the families who would benefit from the program are suffering. Less than 15% of low-income families with children under age four in the state can access any public funding for child care. Businesses are also affected. Employee absences and turnover due to child care issues cost Louisiana employers $816 million a year, causing a $1.1 billion loss annually for our economy.

According to a poll commissioned by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, this is a critical bipartisan issue. Eighty-six percent of likely voters in Louisiana said that quality, affordable care for children is an important issue in their communities, and 64% believe that government should have some role in providing child care. Increasing state funding for quality child care for working parents had 62% of support from likely Louisiana voters, including 50% of conservatives, 70% of moderates and 86% of liberals.

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The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children is a member of the Ready Louisiana Coalition, a bipartisan, statewide coalition seeking sufficient investment in quality, affordable early care and education in Louisiana. Sixty-one organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, United Ways, advocacy and community organizations, have signed onto the Coalition’s Joint Statement of Support asking all candidates running for governor, the Legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to include a comprehensive plank on early care and education in their platforms.

Candidates can pledge to support the Louisiana Early Childhood Care & Education Commission’s LA B to 3 plan; increase infant and toddler child care reimbursement rates to reflect the true cost of quality care; increase pay for early childhood educators in child care centers, who currently earn a median wage of $8.95 an hour, through mechanisms such as the School Readiness Tax Credit for teachers; review existing dedicated funds and identifying opportunities to redirect them to quality early care and education; and commit to early care and education as a top priority for any new or expanded revenue.

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With the 2019 election season in full swing, Louisianans and our elected officials must make early care and education a priority in order to secure a stronger future for our state. Make sure your elected public officials are informed and prioritize this critical need. To learn more, visit policyinstitutela.org/2019-elections.

Libbie Sonnier-Netto is the executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children in New Orleans.