A Sorry State: Child Care in Louisiana

Finding quality, affordable child care is a drag on Louisiana working families, and it often means having to prioritize cost over quality. That’s the takeaway from the release Tuesday of “Balancing Act: The Financial Challenges of Child Care Facing Louisiana’s Working Families.” The report was released during a live web conference — originally planned as a news conference but moved to the web over Covid-19 concerns — by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, The Louisiana Association of United Ways and One Acadiana.

“The first finding confirms something we’ve long suspected about the availability and affordability of early care and education in this state,” said Dr. Libbie Sonnier-Netto, executive director of the LPIC, “almost 80 percent of respondents reported that they struggle to find quality, affordable child care without child care assistance.”

The coalition partnered with the Louisiana Department of Education to conduct the survey. If found that more than 65 percent of families say affordability rather than quality is their top priority when searching for care for their children. Nearly 300 families out of more than 1,600 on a waiting list last September for state-supported child care participated in the survey.

Assistant Secretary of Education Jessica Baghian stressed the importance of not only child care but early education, noting that 80 percent of brain development happens between birth and age 4. “We need robust and continued funding for quality early care and education to ensure the hardworking families in Louisiana receive the financial assistance they need to be able to enroll their children in high-quality early care and education programs to best prepare them for the future, as I do with my own children,” Baghian said.

“As a resource for local businesses, we know that when working parents experience challenges with child care, they are more likely to take time away from work and stop working entirely, and this can cost the state — some estimates are over $80 million in tax revenue,” noted One Acadiana President/CEO Troy Wayman, who pointed out that a lack of quality, affordable child care diminishes tax revenue by pulling otherwise employable people out of the workforce and reduces the need for goods and services.

Carlee Alm-LaBar, president/CEO of United Way of Acadiana, noted that there are 1.7 million people in Louisiana living in households where one or both parents work but the family lives just above the poverty line, and that child care costs have increased nearly 70 percent over the last few decades, putting them in line with the cost of a public university.

“While there are programs available to support working families, less than one third of eligible families can access them due to the lack of public funding,” Alm-LaBar said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to pump an additional $25 million into state aid for child care for working families, but even if approved it would leave nearly 4,000 families on a waiting list. The Louisiana Legislature is currently on hiatus due to Covid-19, and with economic losses spiraling at the local and state level, it’s unclear when priority the Republican-controlled Legislature will place on child care when the body gets back together.

Added OneA’s Wayman: “The lack of quality child care is a critical threat to business.”