Jeff Adelson recently reported on the New Orleans City Council's efforts to include $750,000 for child care slots in next year's New Orleans city budget. Incorporating child care in the budget is an important step toward ensuring every New Orleans child enters school ready to learn. We applaud the effort of the Council and encourage them to find the funds to support this budget line item. Nobel Laureate James Heckman demonstrated that every dollar invested in high-quality early care and development for children under age five produces a 13 percent return on investment. As leaders in philanthropy in the region, we have invested millions of dollars over the past fifteen years to ensure every New Orleans child has access to high-quality early care and education. Yet we still have an enormous gap.
State funding for the Child Care Assistance Program — the primary means for low-income families in Louisiana to afford high-quality child care — has been cut by 70 percent since 2008. Reversing these cuts is going to take time with the state's continued budget woes.
Almost 11,000 low-income New Orleans children under age four are without access to a publicly-funded child care seat. Their families cannot afford high-quality child care. As a result, our schools and after-school and summer programs are left to try to make up the difference once children reach the elementary grades. By then it will be more difficult and expensive. Ninety percent of a child's brain development occurs before they reach the first grade.
We are committed to continuing our investments through collaborative initiatives like the New Orleans Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and need partners in government to take action and make early childhood care and education a priority. We call on our city leaders to show us your commitment to New Orleans’ children and families via the 2018 city budget.
Last year, State Rep. Walt Leger spearheaded the passage of the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund to create a state match for local government investment in expanding access to high-quality early care and education for low-income families. This fund, alongside numerous other federal and philanthropic financial supports, can provide a valuable match for the city's investment which is what it’s going to take to close the early learning gap in our community. We are going to need to work together, be creative, and find the money to make sure that every child in New Orleans enters school ready to succeed. It won't always be easy, but it is the best investment we can make with the resources we have.
executive director, Institute of Mental Hygiene
chief executive officer, United Way of Southeast Louisiana