Capital Region Delegation Chair Steve Carter Says Our Children Must Thrive By 5
GUEST COLUMNIST: STEVE CARTER
As a state it's time we make investments that will pay the biggest immediate and long term benefits. The Child Care Assistance Program in Louisiana is a tool that creates taxpayers and develops prosperous communities. It's our job as public servants to see that public expenditures result in high returns on investment. The research is clear that investment in early care and education is one of the smartest investments our state can make. High quality early care and education has been shown to result in a great return on investment based on increased school and career achievement, reduced costs in remedial education, and reduced health and criminal justice system expenditures.
While special interests have protected their pet projects, the Child Care Assistance Program in Louisiana has been substantially cut. Child care instability has a significant effect on Louisiana’s workforce participation and productivity and our state’s economy. Based on data from the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, Louisiana serves nearly all 4-year-old children, but the state only serves seven percent of in-need children from birth to age two and thirty-three percent of in-need children under age three. Child care breakdowns for working parents cost Louisiana employers dearly. A recent study showed the aggregate impact to the state economy at over $1.1 billion annually. The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is Louisiana’s only state administered early education program for children under age four that aids low income working parents and parents who are in school or job training. It has been cut by substantially since 2008. Today the program serves 15,000 children a month—down from almost 40,000 children ten years ago. There is now a waiting list for the Child Care Assistance Program of over 3000 children. In fact, only 15% of children birth through age three can access any publicly assisted early care and education program. Two-thirds of young children in Louisiana have both parents, or their single parent, in the workforce. Child care costs almost as much as a public college tuition. This barrier to employment prevents folks from becoming taxpayers in the workforce, and costs our businesses more than three times our annual TOPS expenditure in lost productivity. Investments in early care and education centers are investments in small businesses and the communities that they serve. For every dollar invested in early care and education centers, $1.78 is generated by the centers for the local economy in terms of locally purchased services and goods.
It's the right thing to do and the right economic choice to make to ensure that kids are off to a smart start in life. Ninety percent of brain development takes place between birth and age four. This wires a child’s brain for future success or failure in school, work, and life. In Louisiana more than 40% of children start kindergarten without the skills they need. Those who start behind are more likely to stay behind. It's much more costly to try to close the gap later on than to wisely invest dollars early. Quality early care and education can close the gap by developing cognitive and character skills when it matters most. For these reasons, the Capital Region Legislative Delegation has committed to work together to advocate for additional funding for early care and education programs from all possible funding sources. We must ensure that every child has access to high quality early education programs that meets their needs, prepares them for success in school, and supports their parents’ workforce participation and productivity. It's a smart priority for all of us. We must be fiscally sound in everything we do, but we are committed to ensuring incremental increases in the state’s investment each year in this critical time of life.
Representative Steve Carter
Steve Carter leads the Capital Area Delegation in the Louisiana Legislature