In 2018, approximately 3,150 children in the Shreveport-Bossier MSA were not kindergarten ready or, put another way, 59% of children were deemed not kindergarten ready in both Caddo and Bossier Parishes. To address this problem, Step Forward held the Northwest Louisiana Early Childhood Policy Summit in the fall of 2019. Over 60 participants — including elected officials, business owners, community leaders and Community Foundation of North Louisiana — gathered for three days to learn about the importance of early childhood education, what is currently available and what our area needs are. The summit attendees ultimately drafted two goals to directly improve 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.
The latest data reveals 36.7% of families with children under 5 years of age live in poverty in Shreveport-Bossier. For families in poverty, access to quality early childcare or education is limited or 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. In Louisiana the Childcare Assistance Program, or CCAP, provides financial assistance to low-income families (while parents are working or attending school) in accessing 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.
In 2017 the Legislature established the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund La. R.S. § 17:407.30, 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 per year. In addition, 3% of industrial tax on hemp-derived CBD products will be dedicated to the fund.
Following the Early Childhood Summit, CFNLA issued the following challenge: North Louisiana must raise $1 million to provide funding for children currently on the CCAP waitlist. If the community raises, $900,000, CFNLA will contribute the last $100,000. CFNLA will then seek the state match with the hope of having $2 million available so children ages 0 to 5 will have equal access to quality early education. If you are interested in ensuring that all children have equal access to preschool, please contact Kristi Gustavson at the Community Foundation.