While there’s good news about taking better care of Louisiana children, it’s bound to provoke some concern that the positive development is temporary.
The good news is that a long waiting list for the state’s Child Care Assistance Program is being trimmed. About 4,500 children in low-income families with working parents will get the chance to get affordable child care.
The aid program covers care for children from birth to 4 years old. As anyone can figure, that’s a lot of eligible families in a state where poverty is rife.
The bad news is that the extra money to curtail the waiting list is a one-time grant.
Louisiana is receiving $39 million in federal funds for the initiative. The grant allows $28 million for the child care program, with another part earmarked for improvements to the quality of care in centers, and for particular services for infants and toddlers.
The grant will only last for a year, starting next month.
Superintendent of Education John White expressed gratitude that “hardworking families who have patiently waited for this opportunity” are going to be served. But he added a caveat: “It is important to remember this money is only guaranteed for one year is only a small portion of the amount of funding needed.”
That’s not all. Leading organizations of employers, including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, have made child care a cause, for a couple of good reasons. One is the labor shortage in a growing economy. Workers need a place where their children are taken care of. Availability and quality of child care is a day-to-day crisis in many households, even those above the income limits eligible for the state assistance program.
White’s Department of Education has made this a major effort, including improving rating systems for child care.
But as White noted on the new grant, about 14,600 children are today enrolled in the assistance program, down from about 40,000 a decade ago. In years of mismanagement of the budget at the State Capitol, state investments were reduced and federal funds shifted around to cover gaps in other programs.
A family’s economic progress, as Jonathan Pence, president of the Child Care Association of Louisiana, suggested, really translates into breadwinners getting and holding a job. This program is part of a ladder upward for poorer families, but child care should also help youngsters begin learning basic skills before pre-kindergarten.
What does society get when Louisiana shortchanges children during these early years?
Murphy Paul, the Baton Rouge police chief who also spent many years at Louisiana State Police, said the inmates in prisons tell the tale. All too many young people are getting a poor start in life and not achieving the education that will give them a chance to escape the streets, Paul told the Press Club of Baton Rouge recently.
Shortchanging on child care and paying out later for penitentiaries doesn’t add up. Nor do one-year grants for an every-year crisis.