The Legislature has now passed all of its budget bills. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue being recognized by the Revenue Estimating Conference the week prior, and despite an $86 million need for early care and education, no new appropriations were made on behalf of Louisiana's youngest learners.
This is discouraging to advocates, but what makes it deeply short-sighted is the fact that the state board of education is poised to make its first awards from the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund this summer. The fund was created years ago and is intended to offer local entities a dollar-for-dollar match on investments in early care and education. New Orleans has committed $1.5 million to expand early care for our youngest learners; Jefferson Parish and the city of Shreveport have done the same. Other local entities are in the process of exploring how they can help more families access quality programs.
How much is currently in the fund? As of April 15, $320,000.
The Legislature needs to make good on its promise to match local fundraising efforts for early care and education. Not only is there no new money for early care and education in the budget, but so far the spoken assurances of additional revenue from sports betting are just that — words. No amendments have been made public that would commit sports betting revenues to the fund.
Now, the Legislature needs to commit sports betting revenues to the fund for future years so state promises will meet local commitments. We need $6 million now, but as more and more locals begin exploring ways to invest in our youngest learners, we need the fund to grow with them. That's why, if the Legislature does commit sports betting money to early care and education, they should not include a cap on that investment.
Voters approved this measure because it was pitched to them as a way to fund crucial programming, like early care and education. This is an opportunity to do the right thing and the smart thing. With more children arriving in kindergarten behind (60%) than there are children arriving on benchmark (40%), we must do better. Our state's future depends on it