As a working mother, I depend on safe, high-quality quality child care. It allows me to focus on my job rather than worrying about who is caring for my children or missing work because I cannot find someone to care for them.

But many mothers and fathers with low-wage jobs in Louisiana will soon be denied child care stipends that allow them and their children the same opportunities. As a result of increased demand and limited funding, the state now has to create a wait list for the Child Care Assistance Program, a program that offers financial assistance to parents who are working or are in school so they can afford child care at licensed early learning centers.

This has not always been the case in Louisiana. A decade ago, nearly 40,000 children participated in CCAP, meaning more families could pursue work or school knowing their children were well cared for. As a result of reductions in funding of $74 million annually, the number of children participating dropped by more than 70 percent, hitting an all-time low of 11,000 in 2016.

Despite all this, early childhood in Louisiana has transformed in these last few years. Under the leadership of the Louisiana Legislature and State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the early childhood system of more than 1,600 child cares, Head Starts and school-based pre-K programs has unified, resulting in higher quality under Act 3 (2012), better information for working families and easier access through local enrollment so parents can choose the best option for their children.

Research shows that children who participate in quality early childhood programs tend to do better in school and experience greater life success. Moreover, parents who have access to stable, quality child care are more likely to be successful at work or in school. In fact, one study showed that working mothers who receive child care assistance are 40 percent more likely to still be employed after two years than those who do not receive any help paying for child care.

Child care is an investment in both the workforce of today and the citizenry of tomorrow. Far from a handout, it creates an incentive for parents to work and it prepares young children for the challenges of life ahead. In Louisiana, we take pride in our work ethic, our commitment to family, and our willingness to do right by the next generation. It is time to do the same for the working poor and their young children. It is time again to invest in child care.

Jenna Conway

assistant superintendent, early childhood, Louisiana Department of Education

Baton Rouge