The Louisiana Legislature finished its regular and three special sessions with both good and bad news for young children and their families.
First, the good:
Thanks to the hard work of legislative champions and advocates, there was great momentum during both sessions around early care and education. More legislators than ever before articulated the importance of early care and education during both the Regular and Special Sessions. Five editorials in Louisiana’s two largest newspapers called on legislators to increase investment in early care and education, and numerous other media covered the topic.
- A Master Plan for Early Care and Education in Louisiana: House Bill 676, signed by the Governor on May 31st, creates a Commission to make recommendations prior to the 2019 Legislative Session for a Master Plan for Early Care and Education for the state. A National Conference of State Legislatures’ Early Learning Fellow authored the bill, and support from the National Governors Association helped to make this one of the few bi-partisan highlights of the session. “This is not just a workforce issue of tomorrow,” Representative Hilferty said. “It is a workforce issue today.” Gov. John Bel Edwards told supporters of HB 676, “The problem in Louisiana is we have so many kids who enter school so far behind we never catch them up.”
- $28 million of new FEDERAL funds for the Child Care Assistance Program means 4,400 children will come off the waiting list of 5,200 children, and represents the first substantial increase in CCAP slots in nine years. “I’m ready for a fight, because this is too important,” Representative Steve Carter said of gaining increased funding for the Child Care Assistance Program. With this increase, Louisiana will serve around 20,000 children, roughly half the number served nine years ago.
- Despite serious threats to funding for Louisiana’s Pre-K Programs, those programs will remain whole. At risk was 45 percent of funding for Louisiana’s preK program, LA4, which currently serves around 16,000 four year olds statewide in public schools, and all of the funding for the Nonpublic School Early Childhood Development (NSECD) Program, which serves an additional 1,400 four year olds. The budget compromise ultimately reached by the Legislature and the Governor will renew 45 percent of an expiring 1 percent sales tax increase through mid-2025. The fact that this sales tax will continue for another seven years should provide stability for Louisiana’s budget in general, and the preK programs in particular.
Now, for the bad: No state funding was appropriated for the Child Care Assistance Program. Attempts to capture a portion of the Unclaimed Property Leverage Fund did not pass, and the budget did not include the $10 million of state general funds sought for the Child Care Assistance Program. Louisiana currently spends less than half of 1 percent of its state general funds on early care and education. Although we are serving over 90% of our low income four-year olds in our preK programs, there are 140,000 children birth through age three from low income families who cannot access ANY publicly funded slot.
–Melanie Bronfin, Executive Director
Louisiana Policy Institute for Children
(August 23, 2018)