One lesson I’ve learned from planting trees and promoting lumber products for a living is that the lumber industry in our state grew and improved because it invested in best practices that contributed to our state’s growth and well-being, rather than a “cut out and get out” mentality. Thus, our state’s forest landscape is rich and healthy today.
Unfortunately, our state’s educational landscape bears the scars of a lack of sufficient commitment to best practices, especially in early child care and education. Rather than facing the challenges of working parents and the needs of our youngest citizens, we have failed to provide a sustained investment in the best practices that would serve those aged birth to four years.
A young mother with two toddlers of her own stepped up to demand a change last year. And in January the commission state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, worked to create with her colleagues in state government was able to put a price tag on what we need in Louisiana to add this critical piece to our education landscape.
The commission reports that an initial state investment of $86 million, and maintaining a similar level of funding over a decade from local, state, federal and private funds, will be needed to provide quality early care and education to about 114,000 eligible children. Only about 22,000 are served right now.
Recent discussions by the governor and legislators indicate legalized sports betting in Louisiana might be a source of dedicated funding. This would be a step in the right direction, but even this source would be just a very small first step.
Together, we must commit to high-quality day care as well as full utilization of LaCHIP health care and Head Start’s educational programs to achieve kindergarten readiness for all children.
Childcare centers in partnership with the Louisiana Association of United Ways and the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children are inviting legislators to read to children at a local center as part of Early Ed Week. It’s a great way to focus all our attention on the important steps we can take this year during the upcoming legislative session.
As former president of the Louisiana Senate, I know how difficult it can be to address the needs of competing interests in a matter of weeks, especially when the folks who most need help with early education costs cannot leave work to testify before committees or are too young to speak for themselves.
Let’s commit to planting a seedling for them, that we believe it is worth investing in for our children. That commitment will take root and provide gains for us all.