In philanthropy there is no shortage of innovative ideas. That said, there is a substantial amount of work that must take place to turn innovation into the reality of effective change.
Approximately 60% of the children in Caddo and Bossier parishes are not kindergarten ready. To address this problem, Community Foundation of North Louisiana and Step Forward held the Northwest Louisiana Early Childhood Policy Summit in the fall of 2019. Over 60 participants, including elected officials, business owners, and community leaders, gathered for three days to learn about the importance of early brain development and education, what is currently available, and what our area needs are. The summit attendees ultimately drafted a resolution with two goals aimed at improving kindergarten readiness: 1) To create and disseminate a consistent community message for early brain development and implications on society at large; and 2) To identify, link together, improve, and expand all systems to strengthen families and promote quality and affordable childcare and kindergarten readiness. These goals can only be achieved through a public/private community-wide collaboration.
Just a few months after the summit, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 surfaced in the United States. Nearly one year later, many local businesses are still reeling from the economic losses they suffered in 2020. Those businesses include early childcare and education centers. In Caddo Parish alone there are approximately 60 privately run early childcare centers that submit themselves to the Louisiana Department of Education rating system. While rated by the state, unlike prekindergarten programs at local public elementary schools, these centers are run by private business owners.
The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children conducted a series of surveys statewide about the impact of COVID-19 on childcare providers. Of the providers who responded to the survey, 77% reported experiencing financial losses due to COVID-19, with losses averaging $110,000 per center as of June 22, 2020. This translates to an estimated $137.5 million in collective losses statewide. In addition, 81% of providers open during the survey window were serving fewer children in June 2020 than they did in January 2020, before the pandemic. On average, enrollment at open providers was 30% less during that time frame. Statewide, 45% of providers, including those that were closed during the survey window, had a waiting list of families hoping to enroll their children.
In January of 2021, the Louisiana Department of Education revealed that statewide public-school enrollment has dropped by 2.3%, almost 17,000 students, during the pandemic. Notably the national average is around 2% so this is occurring nationally as well. In Louisiana, nearly half of the decrease is among prekindergarten and kindergarten students.
Even before the pandemic, high-quality early care and education was not accessible or affordable for many families in Louisiana. At an average cost of $7,500 per year (more than the tuition at some public colleges), many families simply cannot afford preschool for their children. This affects not only the parents but also the employers of those parents. In Louisiana, two out of three young children have both parents, or their single parent, in the workforce. Without quality, reliable childcare, parents are simply unable to work. The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children reports that Louisiana employers lose $816 million per year from employee absences and turnovers due to childcare issues.
In Caddo Parish alone, there are approximately 10,710 children between the ages of 0 and 4 in need of quality early childcare. While 94% of the 4-year-olds in need are served, only 48% percent of 3-year-olds have quality care – versus 10% of 2-year-olds, 6% of 1-year-olds and 3% of infants. Providing reliable, quality early learning for these children in need of service also allows their parents to either enter the workforce or simply miss less work.
To accomplish the goals set out at the Summit, CFNLA is hard at work with community experts to design and implement a plan of action.
Step 1: Finding the Funding
The Louisiana Childcare Assistance Program, or CCAP, provides financial assistance to low-income families (while parents are working or attending school) for quality childcare. In the fall of 2019 in Caddo Parish there were 842 children enrolled. However, there were still 188 on the waiting list. Because this statewide funding is limited, the Louisiana Legislature established the Early Childhood Education Fund to provide a match for non-state, non-federal (local, private) funds spent on quality early care. To encourage communities to bring about local solutions, the state fund will provide a dollar-for-dollar match, until the fund is exhausted, for every local dollar raised.
On behalf of Caddo Parish, CFNLA accepted this fundraising challenge and issued one of its own. If Caddo Parish citizens and businesses raise $900,000 to fund spaces for Caddo children on the CCAP waitlist, CFNLA will contribute $100,000 to total $1 million! All dollars raised will be used to provide scholarships to children to attend privately run early childhood centers. No money raised will be retained by CFNLA for administrative or other fees. This will allow Caddo Parish to leverage state matching dollars.
Step 2: Deploying Funding
Raising the money for early childhood education scholarships is only the first step. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, a child’s experiences during the earliest years of life have a lasting impact on the architecture of the developing brain. In fact, over 1 million brain connections form in the first few years of life. Equitable access to early learning is crucial to the success of a child.
Traditionally in the United States, families have not begun formal school for their children until age 5. We therefore must change the dialogue in our community and raise awareness among all about the importance of early brain development – whether it is achieved at home or in a school setting. We must also raise awareness about the existence of state and federal funding, as well as philanthropic dollars for scholarships, and assist those in need in gaining access to such funding. To help ensure scholarship funds raised are effectively deployed, CFNLA has convened an expert steering committee.* Children between the ages of 0 and 4 qualifying for the CCAP waiting list will receive scholarships to attend quality privately run childcare centers.
Step 3: Setting Goals and Analyzing Results
Ultimately CFNLA seeks to increase the number of Caddo Parish students who graduate from high school and go on to living wage jobs. One way to ensure such success is to make sure students enter school kindergarten ready. To do this we must increase participation in high-quality learning opportunities and improve the efficacy of our early childhood learning centers. The Community Foundation, through an external consultant paid for by CFNLA, will track the number of children newly enrolled in early childhood learning centers through the scholarship program. We will then track the improvement or change in kindergarten readiness scores. Through this data we can ultimately determine the best and most effective course of action in assisting young children and their families with equitable access to early learning.
The Intended Results
The effects of sending children to privately run early childcare centers are far-reaching. First, early learning is crucial to the long-term academic success of children. Second, childcare is essential to employees and the employers that count on them. Finally, by investing dollars in scholarships for children, we have a direct positive economic impact on the locally owned childcare centers that lost an average of $110,000 last year. More tuition allows the centers to accept more children and hire more teachers. Thus, investing in young children also results in economic recovery. To learn more, or to help Caddo Parish leverage state matching dollars, please visit cfnla.org/ece.
*Early Childhood Education Fund Initiative Steering Committee
Dr. Lamar Goree, Caddo Parish Superintendent of Schools
Keith Burton, Chief Academic Officer for Caddo Parish Schools
Pam Crook, Supervisor of Instruction/Early Childhood Community Network, Department of Exceptional Children
Nancy Alexander, Director of the Northwestern University Child and Family Network
Clay Walker, Director of Juvenile Services for Caddo Parish
John Dean, CPA at Heard, McElroy & Vestal
Susannah Poljak, former Caddo Parish School Board Member
Kristina Gustavson, CFNLA
Carla Burgos, CFNLA
Jeanne Humphrey, BSN, RN, CNOR – E
Carolyn Spaht Gonzales, CSG Consulting Inc.