BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Some state experts say the economy shutdown put a strain on an already struggling system: early childhood education. And this may make it harder for you to get back to work and your kids to get an early education.
“The gap in early childhood development is really short of breathtaking when you really dig into the numbers,” said Jessica Baghian, the assistant superintendent and chief academic policy officer for the Louisiana Department of Education.
Baghian, says COVID-19 took a financial toll on early childhood care centers. That’s because 70 percent of them closed their doors by the end of April and, now, half of them still aren’t open. This could leave young kids without class and busy parents without daycare.
“If we do not have safe places for children to go and grow, not only will families not be able to go back to work, we will also deal with educational gaps of significant sizes in the coming years,” said Baghian.
These aren’t facilities that receive funding as schools do. Many of these centers are more like small businesses, so if they aren’t open, they don’t make money from tuition to help keep the business afloat. However, even before the pandemic, the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children found that quality early care and education cost almost as much as public college tuition.
“The challenges we’re going to see particularly with children of the least means…. Those children who were unable to afford childcare and/or for whom schools did not provide the robust offerings,” said Baghian.
With new health guidelines in place, enrollment sizes at some of these centers will be smaller and the cost of care will be higher. So, if families were struggling to get their kids into early development centers before, then it may be even more of a challenge now.
These experts believe the solution is to redo the system all together.
“If we build a system, a childcare system, back to what it was exactly previously before COVID, then shame on us,” said Libbie Sonnier-Netto, the executive director of Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. “This is our opportunity to really dig deep and find solutions to help support this industry.”
One of their solutions is to seek help from legislators. The Policy Institute is asking for an initial investment of $71 million, including $46 million in one-time federal funds and $25 million in ongoing state funds, to be made to early childhood education.
“I think we have a long way to go this fall in making sure that, if we have a go remote again, it looks frankly better than it did this spring,” said Baghian.
Both of these experts say early care and education is essential to restarting the economy and Louisiana will struggle to get back to work without more access to these centers.
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