The third annual Louisiana Early Ed Week kicked off Friday at All About Kids Preschool in Lake Charles. Mayor Nic Hunter, and state Reps. Stephen Dwight and Phillip Tarver visited the site to read to children and show their support for the initiative, which promotes increased funding and access to quality early childhood education opportunities for children ages up to age 4.
A partnership between the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children and the Louisiana Association of United Ways, Early Ed Week presents legislative updates regarding the issue to business and community leaders across the state in efforts to keep its mission at the forefront of the upcoming legislative session.
"We know Gov. John Bel Edwards has set $25.1 million in his budget to go before the Legislature concerning this," Libbie Sonnier-Netto, executive director for the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said. "We need $86 million and he knows we're going to keep asking for that."
While those numbers may seem high, Sonnier-Netto said the lack of funding for quality access actually costs the state $1 billion in lost revenue from parents unable to leave home for work. The high cost is also seen in the $816 million lost by employers through employee absences and turn over.
"That's not a small price tag that we're losing because we don't have access to quality early childhood education," she said.
Even more troubling, she said, at the heart of the issue are the children not being served at the time when the most brain development occurs.
"Thirty-five percent of kindergartners are entering not ready to learn," she said. "We know in Louisiana 74 percent of fourth-graders are not reading proficiently. So, the long-term effects really stack up."
Sonnier-Netto said no parent would intentionally set their child up for failure, but often the decision to enroll a child in a quality program without any sort of public funding means a dangerous juggling of difficult decisions for families.
"They're piecemealing childcare," she said. "Borrowing money from families, forgoing medicine, cutting back on clothing, figuring out how to pay the power bill and rent because they have to go to work."
Megan Hartman, a United Way of Southwest Louisiana Women United member, visited the center Friday to show her support of Early Ed Week's work. This is an issue everyone should be concerned with, she said.
"This goes to the future of our state. When we have an educated workforce, this brings the economy up. It helps us in terms of our recidivism rates. Everything hinges on education and the access to all."
Sonnier-Netto urged residents to join in and support Early Ed Week by calling legislators and asking them to support early childhood education in Louisiana this session.