Monday, June 17, 2024

Magner: Childcare and the economy

by BIZ Magazine

As a leading voice of business in northwest Louisiana, the Greater Shreveport Chamber has been a key partner in support of our workforce pipeline.  While much has been written and much policy has been focused necessarily on the K-12 and higher education components of this pipeline, early childhood education has emerged as a critically underdeveloped linchpin for our region. 

The COVID pandemic and related economic dislocations in particular have uncovered a number of structural deficiencies in our economy.  One of the most challenging–and, to some, unexpected–is the crucial role that early care and education plays as both a foundation and catalyst for a fully functioning economy. 

While much focus during the pandemic was on the impact of school closures on working parents, these same challenges are routinely faced by parents of infants and toddlers, but often without access to the same solutions.  The recent emphasis on keeping schools open was, in part, driven by the recognition that having children in school enables parents to work. And our social contract enables our public schools in particular to do that for the majority of our parents. 

But in Louisiana, only about twenty percent of infants and toddlers have access to affordable, high-quality childcare. The parents who cannot afford reliable childcare are thus often un- or under-employed, which can keep both the parent and the child in poverty. 

Research has shown that access to high-quality early education is developmentally impactful for the child and a high yield investment for the public. In Louisiana, 2019 was the first time in a decade that state funds were allocated to early childhood education. This year, especially in light of the significant budget surplus, early childhood advocates from the business and education sectors will encourage our Legislature to expand that investment.  Other states have taken the lead and we must invest to keep pace.

Increased investment will benefit families who receive it, but more importantly for the long term, it will benefit Louisiana. Having sufficient seats to accommodate every child who needs one will require the development of new early learning centers. These centers are businesses that not only provide an essential service, they employ workers, pay taxes, and contribute to the economic vitality of their communities.  

Childcare enables parents to get regular, gainful employment and take advantage of educational opportunities that build our workforce pipeline. High-quality early care and education provides critical socialization and learning opportunities when the brain is developing rapidly. Recent research shows that young children in high quality early education programs experience positive developmental outcomes and are better prepared for kindergarten. These academic benefits have been shown to last well into high school and beyond. 

If this investment does nothing more than ensure that more children are prepared for kindergarten, the savings in remediation and reduction in potential incarceration expenses alone may be worth it.  But when we look at the increased educational attainment of countries around the world, our ability to compete is predicated on our ability to educate each and every child. We must begin early;  we cannot afford to waste the potential of any child. The stakes for them, and for us, are too high.

Dr. Tim Magner is president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce

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