Nearly one year from the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States, many local businesses are still reeling from economic losses they suffered in 2020. Those businesses range from restaurants to local retailers to 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.
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, 2 out of 3 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 four-year-olds in need are served, only 48% percent of three-year-olds have quality care – versus 10% of two-year-olds, 6% of one-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.
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, Community Foundation of North Louisiana has 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. This will allow Caddo Parish to leverage state matching dollars.
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 results in economic recovery. To learn more or help Caddo Parish leverage state matching dollars, please visit cfnla.org/ece.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on January 24, 2021.