New Report Illustrates History of Early Care and Education Advancements in Louisiana
Published 8:30 am Wednesday, April 5, 2023
BATON ROUGE, LA (April 4, 2023) — The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children (LPIC), in partnership with United Way of Southeast Louisiana (UWSELA), held a press conference at the Louisiana State Capitol to release a report that analyzed the modern history of early care and education (ECE) in legislation and funding from the turn of the 21st century through 2022, including lessons learned. During the press conference, Gov. John Bel Edwards offered his remarks about the report, “A Modern History of Early Care and Education in Louisiana,” and addressed the state of ECE in Louisiana. The report was funded with support from Entergy Corporation.
“When I first took office, the state had spent years disinvesting in education. Now, we have the best budget for education in the history of the state,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. “This year’s budget includes the largest investment of state general fund in early childhood education in state history. We all know how important increasing both access and quality of early childhood education in Louisiana is, and I’m incredibly proud of the strides we’ve made to put our children first.”
The story of ECE in Louisiana is a story of tireless people coming together, from inside and outside government, from both sides of the political aisle, and from business and nonprofit sectors across the state, to make progress inch by inch, never losing focus on the importance of early childhood experiences.
“This report is a reminder of how far we’ve come and how we cannot afford to go backward,” said Dr. Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. “This year presents a critical test for policymakers. With the expiration of federal funds, lawmakers will need to find $200 million to preserve 16,000 child care seats so parents and guardians can continue to work and go to school, and an additional $115 million if they want to add more at-risk children to the program as part of the strategic plan outlined by the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission, LA B-3.”
The report provides a comprehensive modern history of the early care and education reform movement in the state. In the early 2000s, Louisiana served only 27% of 4-year-olds in pre-kindergarten (pre-K), and the state ranked last in the country for access to child care for 3-year-olds. The state’s ECE regulatory structures met only four out of 10 national benchmarks, with no required teacher professional development or minimum staff-child ratios. Yet Louisiana’s ECE advocates understood that affordable, high-quality ECE opportunities could be a game-changer for both children and their families, as well as for the state as a whole, and they began to organize themselves to support families with young children.
Because of the tireless work of ECE advocates, including representatives from academia, nonprofits, governmental leaders, child care providers and the business community over the last two decades, Louisiana now serves 90% of at-risk 4-year-olds in pre-K programs rated as high quality. The number of high-quality ECE programs serving younger children continues to grow each year, although only 15% of at-risk children ages birth to 3 are served in public programs.
“The story of Louisiana’s progress in expanding access to quality early care and education illustrates the power of collaboration to create meaningful change,” said Charmaine Caccioppi, UWSELA executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Yet, the high cost of child care remains out of reach for struggling families. According to the United Way ALICE Report, over 60% of Louisiana children age 0-4 lived in households experiencing financial hardship in 2019. We must continue to write the next chapters of Louisiana’s investment in quality, affordable early care and education so all children and families can thrive.”
The report highlights how other states can learn from Louisiana’s story.
- Use research to inform policy and advocacy. Nonpartisan, independently funded organizations that specialize in this type of work have an important role to play in ECE policy and implementation.
- Respect each group’s role and expertise. Louisiana’s ECE community organized itself for advocacy in several ways over the past three decades, always bringing together a variety of experts. Throughout their work together, the ECE community has respected each others’ expertise and worked in their respective lanes to fulfill whatever was needed for the movement.
- Progress is incremental, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be slow. Louisiana’s ECE landscape has changed dramatically over the past three decades, but the changes didn’t take place all at once.
- “Setbacks” are never just setbacks. In Louisiana, the ECE movement never viewed a year with declining funding or a vote that didn’t go in their favor as a failure. Instead, they seized on these events as learning opportunities and to continue their drumbeat about the importance of ECE.
- Clarity on desired outcomes illuminates opportunities. The ECE movement did not intentionally create many of the opportunities they seized upon, but because they were clear about what they wanted for their movement — expanded access and higher quality — they were able to seize upon unexpected opportunities.
Dr. Sonnier added, “Speak to any ECE advocate in Louisiana today, and they will be clear that the work is not done. The state has made tremendous strides in terms of serving at-risk 4-year-olds and implementing a quality rating system over the last two decades. But we still only serve 15% of at-risk children age birth to three, so we must keep moving forward.”
The complete findings from “A Modern History of Early Care and Education in Louisiana” can be found here and the executive summary can be found here. For more information on LPIC, please visit, PolicyInstituteLA.org.