$1.2B needed over next decade to improve child care in Louisiana, state panel says
In a draft report Thursday, a state panel created by the Legislature asked state lawmakers to spend $115 million per year for a decade to improve early childhood education and care, a 34% hike over last year's request.
The proposal was made by the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission, which includes legislators, state education officials and representatives of the child care industry.
For the past three years the commission has asked the Legislature to spend $86 million per year for 10 years to provide care for a large portion of 173,000 children from birth to age 3 who live in low-income homes.
Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute For Children and a commission member, said the childcare industry is beset by challenges, including the "shocking" fact that teachers are paid less than $20,000 per year, or around $9.79 per hour.
Sonnier said parents pay $68 per day for child care for an infant and $37 daily for three-year-olds – about $27,000 per year for families with two children. "It leaves us with a system that is hard to prop up," she said.
Two out of three children in Louisiana below the age of five have both of their parents or single parent working, the report says.
Sonnier said if the Legislature devoted $115 million per year to early childhood care and education it "really helps us balance this equation, to make sure were are providing high-quality child care and paying living wages for teachers."
The money would provide care for 9,200 more children per year.
The 2022 regular legislative session starts on March 14.
However, even in a session marked by a heavy influx of federal aid and higher-than-expected state revenue generating support for anything close to $115 million annually will be a major challenge.
Commission members also complained that the Legislature is not standing by its commitment to offer matching funds for local communities that raise dollars for child care.
State lawmakers last year agreed to devote 25% of sports betting revenue for early childhood education, up to $20 million.
However, sports betting is in its early stages and that revenue stream has not started flowing.
Other funding sources include 50% of license plate revenue from New Orleans Pelicans specialty plates, 8% of net revenues from fantasy sports contests and a 3% tax on hemp-derived CBD products.
Sonnier said a ballot measure in New Orleans would raise $21 million for child care and other cities are raising dollars of their own.
"We just don't have enough money generated now to meet the needs of locals," she said.
The state Department of Education committed $46 million in federal stimulus dollars from 2020-22 as a "bridge" to long-term funding, according to the draft report.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed allocating $50 million to the state's early education fund, the source for matching local dollars.
Edwards also wants to boost state aid for a program that helps subsidize child care for low-income families while they work, attend school or undergo job training.
It would finance 1,670 slots on top of about 20,000 children enrolled now in the Child Care Assistance Program.
Another part of the governor's plan would boost reimbursements for learning centers.
This article was originally published by The Advocate.