Working to boost investment in Louisiana early education programs

Advocates look toward legislative session to increase funding for programs
It's Early Education Month, and the United Way of Central Louisiana is taking the opportunity to highlight its importance.
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 7:37 PM CST
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PINEVILLE, La. (KALB) - If $200 million is not renewed for early education programs (children four and under) in the state in the upcoming legislative session, an estimated 16,000 children statewide, and more than 200 children in Central Louisiana, could lose access to a quality learning environment for their time prior to primary school.

“If we lose this $200 million, and we are not able to replace it, that means that families will not be able to go to school or work. That’s a problem,” said Dr. Libbie Sonnier, Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.

That is why United Way of Central Louisiana gathered with lawmakers, local leadership and children advocates for Early Education Month at the Foundations Christian Learning Center to ensure funding for early childhood education in the state is a continued investment and not a one-time expense. That was the case in the 2022 Regular Session, when lawmakers approved $84 million toward early education programs. As COVID-19 funding is set to leave the state’s surplus this spring, advocates want to make sure children get their fair share.

Over the past decade, early childhood education programs have taken a big hit with slashed budgets and very few big investments.

On average, families in Louisiana pay between $9,000 to $18,000 per year for early childhood education programs.

“In this area, we have 49% of our families that are ALICE or poverty,” said Michelle Purl, CEO of United Way of Central Louisiana. “That cost of early childhood is a big chunk out of their budget.”

Without legislative investments into assistance programs and affordability, some families may not be able to afford the cost, meaning their children might end up in the home of a neighbor or family member, which could lead to them falling behind when they get to primary school.

“This difference between a center like this and having a neighbor watch your child is such a huge jump for that child when they start school and the quality of where they go from there,” said Purl.

Some parents may even choose to stay home with their child, which could be a costly necessity for families who could lose a paycheck or opportunities for educational advancements in the process.

That is why stakeholders gathered with local legislators and leadership on Monday, giving them a glimpse of what children would lose if a significant investment into early childhood education is not made in the 2023 Regular Session.

“If you think of 200 families right now that have quality early childhood losing it, that’s gonna affect our workforce, that’s gonna affect our youth entering into the school,” said Purl. “I mean they already lost a lot during COVID, so starting off on the right foot is very important right now.”

Advocates are urging lawmakers in Baton Rouge to allocate $315 million to education programs, to make sure no family has to choose between earning a paycheck and starting their child on the right page in their educational career.

“Having these early childhood centers will help them be prepared for Pre-K and K, and we want them to be successful as they go through the educational process,” said State Rep. Ed Lavardain, III (D-District 26).

Lavardain’s comments were along the same lines as his colleague in the House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-District 27), and those in the Senate, Sen. Jay Morris (R-District 35) and Sen. Jay Luneau (D-District 29).

Lawmakers convene for the 2023 Regular Session on April 10.

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