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Quality preschool is vital to kids and Louisiana's economy


Educators and other advocates for Louisiana children have pushed the Legislature for years to increase funding for preschool.

A coalition of more than 20 groups called Ready Louisiana — which includes the Committee of 100 for Economic Development, League of Women Voters, Louisiana Budget Project, Stand for Children and other civic groups — wants the state to invest $208 million in early childhood education by 2020.

The case is compelling: Ninety percent of a child's brain development occurs between birth and age 4, and quality Pre-K programs are an important piece of that development. But many children in Louisiana don't have access to good child care or preschool.

That ought to be reason enough for the Legislature, but lawmakers have yet to provide the money needed to fully implement a comprehensive preschool act passed in 2012.

A 2017 report by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, LSU, Loyola University and Entergy looked at the Pre-K issue from another angle. The study, titled "Losing Ground," found that the ability of parents with young children to work is directly affected by the availability of child care and preschool.

The report results are stark: 14 percent of parents turned down a promotion because of child care issues; 18.5 percent went from full-time to part-time work; 16 percent had to quit their job, and more than 40 percent had to miss work or leave early during a 90-day period.

The Council for a Better Louisiana pointed out the broader implications in a January post on its website: "As important as early education is in the cognitive development of children and their preparation for school, it is also becoming a workforce development issue of growing importance to businesses."

The childcare report estimated the Louisiana economy loses more than $1 billion a year because of lost wages and productivity connected to child care.

The Legislature passed a comprehensive preschool act in 2012, acknowledging the connection between early education and a child's later academic success. But lawmakers have yet to provide money for all the provisions.

State funding for pre-kindergarten classes was cut for the current budget year, and lawmakers added no money to a child care assistance program for low-income parents who are working or attending school. The "Losing Ground" report noted that the Legislature has decreased funding for early childhood education for eight years in a row.

"What we have documented in this report with LSU, Loyola and Entergy's help is how critical these programs are to our employers and employees. Six out of every 10 mothers with an infant will return to work in the first year of the child's life," Louisiana Policy Institute for Children director Melanie Bronfin said when the report was released. "Yet the lack of stable, accessible programs in our state greatly impacts their productivity as well as their employer's."

Now we're heading quickly toward the next legislative session. Legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards are at an impasse over how to deal with a $1 billion deficit looming over the next budget. Those decisions will affect how much money is available for vital state services.

As legislators weigh how to replace revenue from temporary taxes set to expire at the end of June and how much money the state needs to spend, they should make Pre-K a priority.

They claimed in 2012 to understand the importance of giving children a strong start. Now they need to put the money up to make that happen.


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