Approximately 3,000 children to remain on waiting list, thousands more in need of services
The Louisiana Department of Education on June 19 started the process of serving more than 1,400 additional children in early learning programs, trimming the waiting list for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides financial assistance to low-income families while parents are working or attending school. Children birth through age 3--the age group most in need of services--will be prioritized. Eligible families will start receiving notice this week.
This action comes after the Louisiana Legislature, for the first time in a decade, increased funding in the annual state budget for early childhood education.
Of the roughly $20 million earmarked for the state's youngest learners, about $8.8 million will fill the void of an expiring federal grant that provides pre-kindergarten services to 4-year-old children. Those allocations, which will benefit more than 870 children, were today approved by a committee of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and are expected to earn the board's full approval tomorrow. In addition, nearly $2.3 million will be used to support a federally-required increase in the amount of money families currently participating in CCAP receive, and about $8.9 million will be used to pay for the more than 1,400 additional seats for children birth through age 3.
"We are grateful for the opportunity to provide affordable child care to more of the hard-working families who have patiently waited for this opportunity," said State Superintendent John White. "But it is only a small portion of the amount of funding needed to help our most vulnerable children."
Approximately 3,000 children will remain on the waiting list after the new seats are filled, and even more children birth through age 3 are in need of services, echoed Melanie Bronfin, Policy Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.
"An estimated 173,000 low-income children, birth through age 3, across Louisiana cannot access affordable, high quality care and education," Bronfin said. "Currently only 22,000 children in that age range are being served in publicly funded seats. This is unacceptable."
This crisis of access for children birth through age 3 was highlighted by the state's Early Childhood Care and Education Commission in its ambitious "LA B to 3" funding plan. The plan, which was unanimously adopted in January 2019, outlined the need for an additional $86 million per year for 10 years to serve the state's youngest learners.
"Louisiana's success is tied to the success of its children," said Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie), who chaired the commission and authored the bill to establish it. "Our state created LA 4, and today 90 percent of 4-year-old children in need have access to early learning. Our younger children deserve the same quality care and education."
Future investments in "LA B to 3" are necessary not only for Louisiana's working families and their children but for the state as a whole, said BESE Member Tony Davis.
"Significant research shows that for every $1 invested in high quality early care, the state yields a $7.30 return on investment. Children who participate in top-notch early learning programs are less likely to be retained a grade in school, dropout before high school graduation, or be engaged in the criminal justice system," Davis said. "State leaders took an important first step during this year's regular session. We must not stop here."
Contributed by La. Dept. of Education