A diverse coalition of business leaders, military officials and child care advocates is asking the governor and state lawmakers to include some $31 million in the Louisiana Department of Education’s budget for the coming year to fund programs that will enable more families with children ages 0 to 3 to access quality child care.
And they’re backing up their request with data. At a forum at the Capitol this afternoon, the Council for a Strong America released the findings of a new report showing the dire status of affordable, accessible childcare in Louisiana. According to the report:
• Nearly 50% of all Louisiana residents live in a “child care desert,” an area in which there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. Availability is especially limited for families who live in rural areas, have infants and toddlers or work evening and night shifts.
• Infant care in Louisiana averages around $7,500 per year, nearly 38% of the annual income of the average single parent.
• Employers nationwide lose about $13 billion in lower revenues and costs to replace workers who leave their jobs because of child care struggles. In Louisiana alone, the study estimates, child care problems are responsible for a $1.1 billion annual loss to the economy.
Among those supporting the funding request, a fraction of which has been included in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive budget for FY 2020, is Michael Olivier, executive director of the state’s business roundtable, the Committee of 100.
Olivier says the business community has come to recognize that funding for quality child care is not just a social service issue but a workforce issue that affects potentially every business in the state.
“C100 learned a while back, like many in the private sector, that we didn’t understand the importance of early childhood education,” he says. “We saw it as a government-funded babysitting service, instead of as an important workforce element, which it is so we determined we’ve got to do something about this.”
Ret. Major Gen. Ronald Richard says the issue also has a direct impact on the ability of young people in Louisiana to serve in the military. Nearly 75% of those between the ages of 17-24 are ineligible, Richard says, because they’re educationally unprepared, physically unfit or have a criminal record.
The study underscores the link between quality child care and brain development in young children.
“If child care is in a high-quality setting then kids spend their time in a secure, happy place where they get lots of attention and lots of ways to build their brain power,” Richard says.