We like to say that children are our future, but in Louisiana we sure don’t seem to show it.

Without much warning, lawmakers last month sliced state funding for early childhood education programs amid persistent fears of budget problems. 

Services that took a hit include LA4, the state’s largest prekindergarten program for at-risk students, and the Nonpublic School Early Childhood Development Program, which reimburses nonpublic schools for providing 4-year-olds with prekindergarten classes, before-and-after-school enrichment activities and social services. Together the two programs serve about 17,600 youngsters.

Also affected is the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps pay for child care for children from birth to 4 while parents are at work, school or in job training. Funding for it wasn’t cut, but no additional money was designated to it. 

“We hear a lot about higher ed but the CCAP, which is the only program for early childhood education for children under age 4, has been cut by almost 70 percent in the last eight years to where we’re down to serving less than 15 percent of our at-risk kids under age 4,” Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, told the American Press in February.

Bronfin said workforce development starts at the cradle — and legislators need to keep that in mind. 

“Return on investment in programs for children birth through age 4 can be up to $13 for every dollar invested, yet Louisiana is spending less than half of 1 percent of its state funds on early care and education,” she said. 

“The bottom line is we are paying for it one way or the other,” she said. “If you watch grade repetition, kids being referred to special education, you watch drop-out rates in high school, we’re paying for it. We either pay it now, or pay it later.” 

Twenty-eight percent of children in Louisiana were living in poverty in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, according to a Kids Count report. In almost every measure, youngsters in Louisiana are worse off than their peers nationwide.

We know the state can’t serve them all, but too few are getting a head start in life and are struggling as teenagers and adults later on. We to invest more in these young lives. 

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