Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Ready Louisiana calls on legislature to save seats, ramp up early education funding

by BIZ Magazine

Ready Louisiana calls on legislature to save seats, ramp up early education funding

BATON ROUGE, LA (May 1, 2023) – Today, the Ready Louisiana Coalition, a leading advocacy organization for early care and education (ECE), organized Early Ed Day at the Capitol. This annual event is dedicated to educating lawmakers about the importance of ECE to the state and to demonstrate the broad, bipartisan support for the Coalition’s legislative ask – $315 million in state funds during the 2023 Fiscal Session. Unfortunately, as advocates gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to share their message with legislators, amendments to the state budget were released cutting all new funding to early care and education.

“When it was first released, HB 1 appropriated $52 million in ongoing revenue to help families access high-quality child care programs. Unfortunately, House Appropriations cut that funding today, which is disappointing and shortsighted,” says Dr. Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. “I understand Chairperson Zeringue’s position that existing state funding for the Child Care Assistance Program is preserved in the newest version of HB 1, but that doesn’t change the fact that 16,000 families across the state are losing access to child care right now, and the $52 million that was in the previous version of the bill would have saved 4,000 of those seats. We are hopeful the Legislature will find a way to restore that funding before the end of session.”

ECE has become a strong bipartisan issue in recent years, with studies showing that the state’s economy loses $1.3 billion and Louisiana businesses lose over $760 million every year due to child care breakdowns alone. Advocates were hopeful going into the 2023 session that legislators would build on past investments in young children and working parents, as the state currently allocates less than 1% of its state budget to ECE.

“Early Ed Day at the Capitol is an advocacy day for business leaders, chambers of commerce, United Ways, advocacy organizations, early care and education professionals, and parents to educate policymakers about the importance of improving policies and increasing investment for quality early care and education for children birth through age four in Louisiana,” explains Sarah Berthelot, President and CEO of the Louisiana Association of United Ways.

The Coalition’s ask, as recommended by the bipartisan Louisiana Early Childhood Care and Education Commission, includes the following:

1.               The appropriation of $200 million to sustain child care access for 16,000 children as a result of expiring one-time federal funds and $115 million to expand access to high-quality ECE for over 9,000 in-need children, and

2.               The designation of 10% of recognized excess revenues to the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund to continue incentivizing local municipalities’ investments in expanding high-quality ECE seats.

In 2019, the bipartisan commission unanimously approved a bold plan to address the lack of high-quality, affordable child care for vulnerable families. The commission’s plan, Investing in Our Future: LA B to 3, calls for the state to invest substantially in high-quality ECE over the next decade.

In 2022, state lawmakers made a historic down payment by allocating new funding for ECE. However, Louisiana is running out of a significant amount of one-time federal dollars, and over 16,000 children are at risk of losing access to high-quality ECE programs.

Further complicating the situation, Louisiana also has a record-low unemployment rate of less than 4%, meaning even more families need care for their young children while working.

“We understand that high-quality early child care and education is absolutely economic development infrastructure,” said Trey Godfrey, senior vice president of policy of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “The state will lose billions in productivity over the next decade if we fail to invest in young children.”

Members also encouraged the legislature to invest 10% of recognized excess funds in the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund to ensure the fund doesn’t run dry. However, as legislators unveiled one-time spending projects in other pieces of legislation Monday, there was not an allocation to the Early Childhood Education Fund, which offers local governments a dollar-for-dollar match on their investments. Created in 2017, the Early Childhood Education Fund is a tool to incentivize local investments, and right now cities and parishes are accelerating their efforts. At the current rate of local investment compared to the rate of growth of the Fund, however, the Fund will be unable to make full matches in three to four years. Advocates fear that without a one-time appropriation to the Fund this year, local entities will face a fiscal cliff of their own in the near future.

“The clock is ticking, and our children’s future depends on the decisions our legislators make today,” said Charmaine Caccioppi, United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Executive Vice President and COO. “Investing in early care and education is not only a moral imperative but also a smart economic move with up to 13% annual return on investment. If we don’t act now, we risk falling further behind, depriving children and families of opportunities to thrive. Our children’s future cannot wait.”

The Ready Louisiana Coalition is a bipartisan group of 120 organizations, including chambers of commerce, civic organizations, businesses, and advocacy organizations representing more than 1 million people in Louisiana’s workforce. We advocate for one issue: increased access to high-quality early care and education for the children and families who need it. Our membership believes that investing in high-quality early care and education will prepare our youngest children for a smart start in life, enable families to be productive in the workforce, and serve as an economic engine for communities across Louisiana. View the coalition’s 2023 legislative joint statement here.

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