Women United, an initiative of the United Way of Southwest Louisiana, is supporting legislation set to be filed during the upcoming session that seeks to increase childcare and education funding for needy families with children ages 4 and under.
The effort, “LA B to 3,” was discussed during a Louisiana Early Education Week celebration on Wednesday at University United Methodist Day School. Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said it calls for a 10-year plan to increase funding for families with developing children.
The state’s general fund allocates less than half of 1 percent of its budget for early childhood education. Meanwhile, a drop in federal funding has led the tuition subsidizing Child Care Assistance Program to fall from 40,000 seats to 20,000 seats.
“In the last 10 years, even though we’ve done huge reforms to our system to improve the quality, all we’ve done is cut early childhood education,” Bronfin said.
The state’s current budget allocates no money for its earliest learners, Bronfin said.
“At the end of the day, our budget is our ultimate policy document,” she said. “What we do with our budget is what we really feel. So, the fact that we haven’t as a state put in any money for these early learners is disappointing.”
Providing young children with education is critical because “90 percent of brain development occurs between birth and 4 years old,” Bronfin said.
“Like building a house, the foundation is the most important part,” she said. “And if it’s cracked, it’s very difficult and expensive to fix.”
Sarah Berthelot, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of United Ways, said partnering with the policy institute was a natural relationship for the organization.
“Quality education eventually leads to a stable job in which one can support a healthy family,” she said.
The United Way’s most recent Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) study shows that quality childcare is one of the most expensive line items for working families who are struggling financially. Programs and legislation, including “LA B to 3,” will help “make hard choices a little easier,” Berthelot said.
Also during the event, regional business leaders and policy makers studied Louisiana’s early educational landscape and read Louisiana-based stories to preschool students.