New Orleans Sees Results With Early Childhood Education

Preschool Teacher Reads A Book To Her Students
Getty Images

Deirdre Johnson Burel

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many foundations came to New Orleans to invest in our city and communities. They came to stand alongside us as we did the arduous work of recovery.  But over the past 12 years, most have left. As a former grantee and now a program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, I am honored by our generational commitment to the Crescent City.  

The Kellogg Foundation is committed to New Orleans and ensuring its children and families thrive. While there is much to celebrate about the impact of our community partners, I am most proud of the achievements we’ve made together in early childhood education.  

It’s because of our partners that Louisiana ranks eighth overall in the quality of its early childhood education system, according to a state-by-state analysis done by the Bipartisan Policy Center.  

For more than a decade, Louisiana has served as a case for what a unified effort can do to create and fund a system that enhances the quality of learning for children from birth to age 5.  The science says that’s one of the most crucial developmental stages for our children, so success matters. 

Much of what’s reflected at the state level has been both mirrored in and in some cases was catalyzed by work done in New Orleans to address the lack of high-quality options for children of working parents. Since New Orleans incorporated early childhood education into its budget in  2018, the line item has grown to $3 million annually. About 18% of children from birth to age 3  now have access to quality early care and education. 

Thanks to the work of advocacy groups, community and business leaders and local government, New Orleans has an incredibly diverse and robust cadre of early childhood education centers. 

As an example, the Hoffman Early Learning Center, one of our partners, is teaching sign language to children beginning at six weeks. Children are learning in the Montessori style at our partner Audubon Gentilly and parents are taught age-appropriate practices for their children at WePlayCenter by TrainingGrounds. 

Investments in early learning have a profound impact, not just on our individual children, but society as a whole. It helps interrupt generational poverty and creates a robust economy in the long term by nurturing our future workforce. The past two years have taught us that early childhood education is an anchor sector to our economy. At the onset of COVID-19, our partners, led by the Louisiana Department of Education, responded in lockstep, providing access to care for our healthcare workers and others on the front line. Because of our success, others across the U.S. looked to Louisiana on how to support our workforce during the pandemic. 

We know that children who have quality early learning enter kindergarten ready to learn, need less educational support, are more likely to graduate high school and are less likely to need social safety nets. In fact, Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman says for every dollar we invest in early learning, we get back $13 over time. 

Louisiana has earmarked nearly $1 billion in federal dollars for early childhood education for the next few years, but that money will be exhausted by 2024. While this will address many short-term challenges facing education in Louisiana, more is needed to continue the positive strides we’ve made into our future.  

It’s no accident that investments from philanthropic organizations, government and the private sector have created a top-rated early childhood education system here in Louisiana. This is the cornerstone of our state’s future; it forecasts what’s possible in our next generation. But philanthropy cannot do it alone. 

At the Kellogg Foundation, we are focused on ensuring all children and families can thrive. We are honored and proud to stand alongside our partners in helping to make New Orleans a child-centered city.  

Deirdre Johnson Burel is a native New Orleanian. As a senior program officer at the W.K.  Kellogg Foundation, she leads the foundation’s strategy for investments in the city. 


Categories: Activism, Education, Nonprofit, Philanthropy, Politics, Today’s Business News