Louisiana set to receive $773 million to fund early childcare, but advocate says it’s just a start

‘An incredible investment’ that ‘doesn’t fund the whole system’

In Louisiana, 54.5% of students attending public school are of color; yet there are only 26.1% teachers of color working in those schools, a gap of 28.4%. (Getty Images)

Louisiana is set to receive $773 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund early childcare, but an early childhood advocate said if Louisiana wants to see meaningful, lasting change in improving early childhood education outcomes, it needs consistent investment from the state.

Only 46 percent of Louisiana 3rd graders are on track to master English and only 43 percent are on track to master math, a disturbing statistic that Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley attributes to 60 percent of the state’s kindergarteners starting school already behind the curve.

Calling early-childhood preparedness “the most important educational challenge of our generation,” Brumley said in a virtual press conference in January, “we have to invest” in programs that give economically disadvantaged children more access to early childhood programs.

Louisiana received $193,255,990 for childcare relief from the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill, and $773,153,348 from last month’s American Rescue Plan Act, Ted Beasley, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Education said. 

Approximately $297,435,357 of the American Rescue Plan Act funding will go to Expanded Child Care Assistance and the other $475,717,991 will go to Child Care Stabilization Funds (grants to child care), Beasley said.

The White House released a statement Thursday saying that the American Rescue Plan Act’s $39 billion funding nationally “will provide a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of childcare providers and early childhood educators, provide a safe and healthy learning environment for more than 5 million children, and help parents, especially mothers, get back to work.

Another goal of the funding is to “lay the foundation for a stronger child care system, so families can access the high-quality care they need,” according to the statement.

Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said in an interview with the Illuminator that the federal funding for early childcare does “start to build the bridge” toward a more secure statewide early childhood education system, but “only part of the bridge gets built with this federal funding. And that’s why the state investment to finish building the bridge becomes really desperately important.”

Sonnier called the $39 billion federal funding for early childcare “an incredible investment that, quite frankly in my lifetime, I didn’t know that I would see,” but “it doesn’t fund the whole system.”

“Right now in the state budget, less than half of a percent goes towards young children in our state,” Sonnier said. “So that tells you where we need to spend our time, money and effort.”

For Louisiana children to read, write and learn math without falling behind, Sonnier said, “we have to start investing in them. And that means we have to do it in our actions, and those actions mean we have to fund it in the budget.”

The majority of Louisianians support more spending for early childcare, even if it means paying more in taxes, according to the fifth of five reports of the 2021 Louisiana Survey released Tuesday by LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab. Seventy-six percent of Louisianians support increasing state spending on childcare for infants and toddlers from low-income families, according to the survey, and 53 percent support raising taxes to pay for increased spending on childcare for all families, regardless of income.