Business leaders turn attention to another workforce drain: early child care issues

    Louisiana’s largest business lobby is backing a more robust early child care system, as issues with early childhood education cost the state economy more than $1 billion per year, according to a report released earlier this year by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children and LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab.

    At an event hosted by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry today, experts, business professionals and politicians agreed there is a severe lack of access to high-quality child care in Louisiana, and there is near-unanimous consent among policymakers to increase funding for it.

    But with the state facing a more than $1 billion shortfall next year, the new effort joins a long list of priorities that lawmakers have identified, but struggled to fund properly. “I don’t think we know the answer yet,” LABI President Stephen Waguespack said of how lawmakers should find the money to invest in early child care.

    Still, the weight of LABI and mainstream Republicans helped propel criminal justice reform—long a priority of some in the state—to the finish line this year, several lawmakers noted during a panel discussion. That same tact could help change the political calculus on the early child care front. Much like the longstanding criminal justice system in Louisiana, several lawmakers pointed to the lack of early child care options as a drain on the state’s already-lagging workforce, which puts it well within the realm of business issues.

    “My hope is we’ll see groups like LABI … agree on a way to solve the budget crisis to fund issues like this,” said State Sen. JP Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans who sat on the legislative panel.

    The numbers outlined in the report laid out a compelling economic case for bridging the early child care gap: Louisiana employers along could lose $816 million annually due to child care issues causing absences and employee turnover, not to mention the detriment to children who spend their most important years of brain development without adequate care. All told, child care issues result in a $1.1 billion loss annually for Louisiana’s economy, according to the report.

    Louisiana already has a framework in place for how to move forward on the issue. Lawmakers in 2012 passed Act 3, a law that overhauled much of how early child care programs operated in the state. But many parents still lack access, and lawmakers on the panel agreed there is inadequate funding for the law.

    “This is a nonpartisan issue,” said State Rep. Steve Carter, a Baton Rouge Republican. “The problem … is money.”

    —Sam Karlin

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