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Dr. Libbie Sonnier, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children

Reflecting on the first 2020 special Louisiana legislative session, there are reasons for the early care and education sector to celebrate, and reasons we should resolve to work even harder.

Wins this session included the protection of $18.8 million in state funding received in 2019 for early care and education, the continuation of the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission and the creation of a task force to study sustainable funding options, and the passage of House Bill 64, dedicating a portion of sports betting tax revenue to the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund.

Though child care advocates are heartened by those wins, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are not enough. No additional funding was allocated in the state budget to expand access to quality care and education. Currently, only about 15% of Louisiana’s children aged birth to three are being served in a quality-rated setting.

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As a result, low-income and essential worker families will struggle to access already limited spots at child care centers. If they are unable to find a friend or family member who can step in to care for their young children, these parents will be unlikely to be able to return to their jobs. We cannot expect to fully re-open the economy if employees cannot leave their homes to return to the workplace or have to split their attention while working at home and caring for their children.

The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children implores our state leaders to further prioritize funding early care and education moving forward and to continue to ensure that early care and education policies are centered on the health and safety of Louisiana’s children. The fact is, everyone claims early care and education is a priority — but if something is a priority, then we should fund it.

I have spent nearly 20 years supporting young children and their families and know that, unfortunately, children’s development suffers during times of economic downturn such as the one we are experiencing now. With the return on investment so high and the potential for damage so grave, there is no better use of Louisiana’s dollars than investing in high-quality early care and education. We hope our state’s leadership agrees as we approach a potential fall special session.

Times are tough, but we know Louisiana families are tougher. And we promise you, we are committed to working even harder for increased access to quality early care and education for children across the state.

LIBBIE SONNIER

executive director, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children

New Orleans