It has been said we learn our belief systems as very small children and move through life creating experiences to match those beliefs. Sometimes our beliefs limit our lives and prevent us from reaching our potential. Limiting beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious, can be overcome. In 2018, 59% of children in Caddo Parish were not kindergarten ready. Similarly, the same year 59% of the children entering kindergarten in Bossier Parish were also not ready. While limiting beliefs may suggest lowering this number is not possible, facts tell a different story.
Experts now know 90% of brain development occurs from age 0 to age 5. 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. While genes provide the basic blueprint, experiences shape the process that determines whether a child’s brain will provide a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Harvard concludes that “healthy development in the early years (particularly birth to three) provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation.” To secure a strong future, our community must focus on our youngest assets, our children.
In late 2019, Step Forward convened Community Foundation of North Louisiana along with local mayors, superintendents, legislative representatives, business owners and healthcare providers at the Early Childhood Policy Summit. The Summit was tasked with determining how to raise the number of children entering school kindergarten ready. As a major area funder, CFNLA is issuing a challenge to this community to raise the dollars necessary to undertake this endeavor.
Enhancing the quality of existing early childcare and education facilities in North Louisiana is a vital first step toward positive early learning experiences and kindergarten readiness. To ensure high quality experiences for kids age 0 to 5, early childhood centers need access to both curriculum and training. In 2007, the Louisiana Legislature passed a unique package of tax credits known as the School Readiness Tax Credits. Louisiana offers a dollar for dollar tax credit for businesses contributing up to $5,000 to Child Care Resource & Referral agencies like Northwestern State University Family Network. Because these tax credits have been vastly underutilized, Community Foundation of North Louisiana, The Committee of 100, and Step Forward undertook to heavily promote the use of these credits in late 2019.
On behalf of our community, our sincerest gratitude to the following businesses who helped raise just under $150,000 in tax credits for quality early childhood programming for local children!
- Air Systems, Inc.
- Baldwin Madden Energy, LLC
- Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana
- C.W. Lane Company, Inc.
- Coldwell Banker Gosslee
- Community Foundation of North Louisiana
- Curb Tek, LLC
- Fairway Partners, LLC
- George E. McGovern III CPA
- Grayson Foundation, Inc.
- Harris, Leary & Company, Inc.
- Heard, McElroy & Vestal
- Highland Clinic
- Ivan Smith Furniture
- John W. Dean, CPA
- Keatchie, LP
- McElroy Metal
- Nickelson Law, PLLC
- Porter’s of Louisiana, LLC
- Rational Middle Media Group, LLC, on behalf of the Prize Foundation
- Red Ball Oxygen Company
- Red River Motor Co.
- Sealy Operating III, Inc.
- Seaside Capital, LLC
- Step Forward NLA
- Stowaway, Inc.
- Volunteers of America of North Louisiana, Inc.
In Shreveport- Bossier, 36.7% of families with children under 5 years of age live in poverty and many more live near the poverty line. For families in poverty, quality early childcare or education is unaffordable. According to the Louisiana Department of Education, statewide 86% of economically disadvantaged 4-year olds have access to quality early learning versus 1% of infants, 6% of toddlers and 26% of 3-year olds. The Louisiana Childcare Assistance Program, or CCAP, provides financial assistant to low-income families (while parents are working or attending school) for high quality childcare. In Caddo Parish, as of October 31, 2019, there were 842 children enrolled in the CCAP program with 188 on the waiting list. As of the same time period, there were 160 Bossier Parish children enrolled with 40 on the waitlist. We owe these children a seat at the early childhood table!
In 2017 the Legislature established Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund which was unfunded until January of 2020. The fund is designed to match non-state, non-federal (local, private) funds spent on quality early care and slots for centers participating in the quality rating system or centers that are eligible to receive CCAP funded students. The fund will provide a dollar for dollar match such that for every local dollar raised, the LECEF will provide $1. Beginning in January of 2020 it will be funded as follows: up to $3.6 million will go in the fund after Harrah’s Casino revenue exceeds $60 million a year. In addition, 3% of industrial tax on hemp-derived CBD products will be dedicated to the fund.
All children deserve equal access to quality early childcare and education. Thus, it is time we as a community pool our resources together to change the lives of our children. Community Foundation of North Louisiana issues the following challenge: North Louisiana must raise $1 million to provide funding for children currently on the CCAP waitlist. If area businesses and citizens raise $900,000, CFNLA will commit to contributing the last $100,000! CFNLA will then seek the state match with the hope of having $2 million available so all children ages 0 to 5 have access to quality early education.
To join us so all children have equal access to early childhood care and education preschool, please contact the Community Foundation: 318-221-0582. We can do this together!
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on February 2, 2020.