Louisiana finds itself with 67 percent of children under age six having both parents in the workforce. Changes to the cultural and economic landscape, paired with a consistent rise in cost of living for Louisiana families, has made the stay-at-home parent nearly extinct in today’s world. This change has created a critical need for high-quality early child care.
For years, studies have shown the importance of Early Childhood Education (ECE) and its connection to a state’s skilled and ready workforce. Yet state funding for Louisiana ECE programs are continuously cut. The lack of state funding places an additional strain on ECE centers already struggling to comply with increased mandates from the federal government. The impacts of ECE programming are felt on two fronts: our current and future workforce.
In an effort to raise awareness of these issues, BRAC partnered with the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children in January to celebrate the first Early Childhood Education week. Legislators, business leaders and community activists participated in touring an ECE center in the Baton Rouge Area and engaging in a roundtable discussion on the challenges centers face and how they can be addressed.
What’s the impact?
Losing Ground, a recent study by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, reported that child care issues negatively affect a large portion of Louisiana workers. Louisiana employers lose $816 million each year due to absences and employee turnover because of lapses in childcare. These issues can be caused by a variety of factors including sick caretakers, scheduling conflicts or school closures.
Factors like these are why 14 percent of working parents turn down a promotion at work. Employers and employees aren’t the only ones who lose out. Louisiana loses approximately $84 million annually in tax revenue due to unreliable child care; money that could flow into the state coffers to fund critical programs.
The bottom line is not the only concern business leaders have when examining the impacts of child care issues. Long term implications on the workforce are also at risk in Louisiana. Children who are enrolled in ECE programs are found to have higher cognitive and social skills than their unenrolled counterparts. Children not involved in an ECE program often enter the K-12 system already one to two grades behind. These factors, combined with the lack of high-quality childcare options, place a burden on Louisiana’s economy to the tune of $1.1 billion annually.
What’s being done?
Realizing the importance of ECE, Louisiana has become a leader in the action happening nationwide. Here are some of the ways we’ve started to move forward:
- Policy Changes – In 2012, Louisiana passed the Early Childhood Education Act (Act 3). Act 3 brought together all publicly funded early learning programs, placing them under the supervision of the Department of Education. The law provides increased standards for teachers, while also increasing the accountability measures for centers. As of this year, parents can view how specific publicly-funded ECE sites are performing, allowing them to make the best decision for their child.
- Current Legislation – Representative Hilferty’s House Bill 676 creates an Early Childhood Care and Education Commission. The commission would create pilot programs through BESE at the local community level. This legislation will open the door for quality ECE programs to be established around the state. The bill has been backed by BRAC and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. It passed the Louisiana House of Representatives 90-0 and is on its way through the Senate.
- School Readiness Tax Credit – Chambers of commerce, such as BRAC, have also prepared business and industry to become key players in the success of high-quality child care centers. Business leaders are encouraged to use the School Readiness Tax Credit, which dedicates donations to early education purposes in specified parishes.
- Universal Pre-K – Individual parishes, such as West Feliciana, have stopped waiting for increased state funding and seized an opportunity to provide ECE programs to their students. Local referendums have provided funding for Pre-K classes to serve all four-year olds in the parish, provided by the local school board. State and business leaders can move the needle forward by using these parishes as models.
We’ve laid a solid foundation as a state; however, we still have work to do to solve issues surrounding Early Childhood Education. It’s evident that business and industry both have skin in the game and can make a difference when engaged in the conversation.