Louisiana’s Early Care and Education at Risk to Cuts in Funding
BATON ROUGE – On Monday, early childhood advocates gathered on the steps of the state capitol to implore Louisiana legislators to save the state from cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program. The effort, led by the Ready Louisiana Coalition—a leading advocacy alliance for early care and education (ECE)—included advocates such as Rep. Barbara Reich Freiberg, R-East Baton Rouge; Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton; and Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.
Over the weekend, the Louisiana Senate Finance Committee approved a budget funding amendment of $14 million for the Child Care Assistance Program following the passage of a budget bill in the House of Representatives with no funding for the program. According to the Ready Louisiana Coalition, however, $14 million is an insufficient amount to save all 16,000 child care seats the state will lose due to expiring federal funds.
In 2019, a bipartisan commission unanimously approved a plan to address the lack of high-quality, affordable child care for vulnerable families, Investing in Our Future: LA B to 3. However, that plan has not been fully implemented. Now, the state continues to serve a fraction of in-need children, aged birth to three, while Louisiana’s kindergarten readiness rate hovers around 40 percent.
“During the pandemic, Louisiana policymakers used federal funding to expand access to child care for more families,” Sonnier says. “With the expiration of those funds, 16,000 child care seats are being lost state-wide. In order to ensure that families don’t lose access to a critical resource, and businesses do not lose productive employees, Louisiana must save as many of those seats as possible.”
Sonnier is referring to federal relief dollars and a federal grant received by the state during the pandemic. Those one-time funds are running out, and it would take approximately $200 million to save all 16,000 seats.
In his initial executive budget, Governor John Bel Edwards proposed $52 million for the Child Care Assistance Program—potentially saving about 4,000 of those seats. The original version of HB 1, sponsored by Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, included this funding before it was cut in a House committee on May 1. Advocates are aiming for a minimum investment of $52 million this year, particularly in light of Louisiana’s record-breaking revenues.
“Louisiana has the revenue to invest $52 million this year—it even has the revenue to invest $200 million and save all 16,000 seats,” Sonnier says. “Right now, Louisiana spends less than half of one percent of the state budget on the education of young children, even though we know that 90 percent of brain development happens by age four. However, we have not prioritized young children and their working parents. Hopefully, that begins to change as we move forward.”
The Senate voted to pass the amended budget with $14 million for child care on Monday and returned the bill to the House for its consideration. After the House received the bill, they voted to reject the amendments, which sent the bill to a conference committee—a group of three House members and three Senators to work out the differences between the two chambers. This will be the last opportunity for lawmakers to invest in child care this year.
More funding would mean more seats in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program. “This program allows parents who are working, going to school or looking for work, but who fall below a certain income threshold, to receive a voucher and choose a child-care program that works for their family,” Sonnier says. “The chosen child care program must, however, have a quality rating to take the voucher. That means every single publicly funded seat is going to a business that has voluntarily chosen to be rated by the Louisiana Department of Education and have those scores be made publicly available. This ensures the money is only going to child-care businesses that provide high-quality experiences for our youngest learners.”
Louisiana residents are encouraged to contact local and state lawmakers to express the importance of child care and the ability of parents to secure safe, quality child care for their children. “If they are part of a business or civic organization, they should go to readylouisiana.org and join the Ready Louisiana Coalition to advocate for more investment in young children this year and in the future,” Sonnier says.