Early childhood learners: ‘It’s not just babysitting’

Published 4:36 am Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Libbie Sonnier of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children is feeling optimistic about state funding that could help make quality child care more affordable and accessible.

Sonnier was in Lake Charles Tuesday to tour Ms. Ellen’s Daycare, a Women United SWLA-sponsored event. Sonnier said Gov. Jeff Landry kept the more than $80 million that had been allocated for early learning in the executive budget — a good sign of his commitment.     

The tour marked Early Education Day and United Way’s Success by 6 program. Success by 6 helps ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) with child care expenses at high-quality learning centers, such as Ms. Ellen’s Daycare. The tour also highlighted the critical needs of access to and investment in the community’s youngest members. Three ALICE children attend Ms. Ellen’s Daycare during a critical period. Healthy development from birth to 3 years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity and successful parenting of the next generation, according to United Way of Southwest Louisiana CEO and president Denise Durel.

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“It’s not just babysitting,” said Shellie Turner Young. Ms. Ellen is her mother and opened the family-owned and operated daycare 36 years ago. All teachers are certified and use a popular, proven curriculum.

Proponents of the state’s investment in early learning say it doesn’t just help children prepare to succeed in school, which can be life changing. It also enables parents to work and provide for their children, and workforce participation strengthens the economy. The 2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book that rated Louisiana 50th in children’s economic well being and 49th in children’s health, also found that in 2020, 21.8 percent of Louisiana children, birth to age five, lived in families in which someone quit, changed or refused a job because of problems with child care. In Louisiana the average cost for a year of childcare is about $8,000. Only families who make around $20,000 or less qualify for Head Start. If unaddressed, the child care shortage has  the potential to cost Louisiana’s economy over one billion dollars a year in lost earnings, productivity and revenue, according to United Way.    

Ms. Ellen’s Daycare tour ended in a room furnished with toddler-sized tables and chairs and shelves of learning toys and materials, but no kids.

The empty room is a reminder that pandemic-era  federal funding has come to an end and the workforce challenges facing day care centers in Lake Charles and across the country have far-reaching consequences. Sonnier urged all who want to see early learning allocations stay in the budget to contact local legislators and Senate Finance Committee members Jeremy Stine and Mark Abraham.