Your editorial, “An everyday crisis in child care” underscores a very important point: To get close to 100 percent kindergarten-ready children in our state, early childhood care and education needs additional recurring money.
Our state has made great progress in building an accountable early care and education system, and raising and aligning our standards across programs, but it cannot move forward without additional funding. Returns on such an investment will far outweigh the cost.
Children’s brains are different from adults. Doctor of Psychology Jean Piaget was a leader in promoting the child-centered classroom, but not until 1996 did technology confirm studies regarding how important the first four years of life are to brain development. The brain is 2.5 times as active in the first three years of life as it is in an adult, yet children who are socio-economically disadvantaged hear 30 million less words than their more fortunate peers by age four. That gap has a persistent negative effect on learning, literacy and education.
Quality education from 0 through 4 years of age can change their lives and ours, lessen school failure and reduce negative interaction with the criminal justice system.
Louisiana is on the verge of a renaissance in early childhood care and education. In 2012, ACT 3 by Louisiana Senator Conrad Appel passed to provide for a 0-4-year-old network to be established through the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It mandated performance targets for 0-2-year-olds and mandated academic standards for 3-4-year-olds at most ECCE centers which take public funds. It was set up as a uniform assessment and accountability system, coordinated with the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Health. In 2014, Act 868 by state Sen. Mike Walsworth transferred the authority for this ECCE network to the Department of Education.
However, Act 3 and Act 868 are unfunded mandates. Nevertheless, through these actions we now know only about 60 percent of our children are kindergarten ready. Only 15 percent of our at-risk children birth through age three can access a publicly funded slot in an early care and education setting; two-thirds of children in this age group have working parents in need of affordable, quality child care. Furthermore, Louisiana’s new rating system shows that more than a third of children in publicly-funded birth-to-three programs are served in low-quality sites.
This year, state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty authored ACT 639 with near unanimous support in both houses, the governor and the support of businesses and child-care/education groups. This act will give a fiscal price to creating a long-term early childhood strategy, and by creating ECCE pilot programs within the DOE, determine the real dollar costs of creating quality centers.
Dr. Keith Perrin
Louisiana Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics