Early childhood education advocates say more investment by the state is critical

Early Childhood Development Initiative
Pre-k children enjoy a local playground.
Pre-k children enjoy a local playground. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Children are the future and early childhood education advocates say more state investment is critical.

Libbie Sonnier-Netto, Ph.D., is executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children which has a mission of advancing policies that will ensure that young children in Louisiana are prepared for success in school and in life.

Sonnier-Netto commented on the level of state investment.

"Currently, it's not great, however, in session 2019 we had the first new investment that we had, had in a decade, so $18.8 million for the first time in a decade that the state had put into early care and education which was wonderful, but it's still a far cry less of what we need,” she said.

Governor John Bel Edwards has made early childhood education his top priority for his recently begun second term in office and those working to improve the outlook for children welcome the governor’s stance.

"Well, it's really needed because we know that those first, early years of life, really birth to three are the most critical time periods that children have, 80 percent of brain development happens in the first three years of life and I really have to applaud the governor for recognizing that and saying, you know, this is our number one priority,” Sonnier-Netto said.

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell agrees that investing in young children is important.

"I think he is on the right track because if we're going to be prosperous economically it's going to be rooted in education and us again investing in our young people at the earliest stages of their development,” said Cantrell.

Sonnier-Netto said given the number of children in need of state resources the annual allocation of funds should be higher.

"What we need per year for a decade is about $86 million per year for 10 years to serve the number of children that we have in the state that are at-risk. We currently serve about 16,000 children that are at-risk in the state and we know that we have about 177,000 children in the state that are at-risk,” she said.

At-risk children include those living in poverty.

"And we know that we have children that are in deep, deep poverty and we’re so fortunate in this state that we have programs like Early Head-Start and Head-Start, but we still need more of those programs to be funded and we also need to be able to fund childcare assistance that helps families go back to work and go to school and know that their children are in a safe place of high quality and education,” said Sonnier-Netto.

The 2020 operating budget for the city of New Orleans includes millions of dollars for early childhood development programs in the city.

Sonnier-Netto applauds the move.

"New Orleans is the first to make this type of investment at a city level in their budget to say our kids are so important to us that we're saying, in our city budget, we're going to invest $3 million in our babies,” she said.

She said that money could attract more.

"And what New Orleans is really hoping to do is, that there’s this Early Ed Trust Fund that where for every dollar that the city puts in they could potentially bring in another dollar from this trust fund,” said Sonnier-Netto.

Mayor Cantrell said the city and the state are on the same page, in terms of wanting to help children become the best they can be.

"We're the leaders in that and the State of Louisiana has aligned themselves with the city to meet our young people where they are and our families,” said Cantrell.

Sonnier-Netto said learning at an early age increases the odds of being successful later in life.

"What we know from years of research, some of which I’ve done myself, is that for children that receive higher quality early care and education they are less retained in school, they don’t need special ed, they finish high school. If they go to college, they finish college, they have better health outcomes, they have better job outcomes, they have better economic outcomes,” she said.

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