May 4, 2023
Executive Director, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children
Timothy J. Magner
President, Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce
Director, Policy & Programs, Early Childhood Education, USCCF Center for Education and Workforce
The early childhood education sector plays a critical role in supporting the present and future U.S. economy. Accessible, high-quality childcare not only allows parents to stay in the workforce; it also sets up our country’s young learners for success so they can participate in the workforce of the future.
In this edition of The Drumbeat, Libbie Sonnier, Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, and Timothy J. Magner, President of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, discussed the state of early childhood education in Louisiana. They discussed the progress that has been made in their state, the work that still needs to be done, and how business partnerships can support lasting solutions in childcare and early childhood education.
Louisiana’s Unified Agency System Supported Childcare and Education in the Pandemic
In 2012, the state of Louisiana unified its childcare and education system under the singular Louisiana Department of Education. According to Sonnier, this merger made it possible for the state to distribute COVID-19 relief dollars quickly during the pandemic.
“Because of all the work that we’ve done since 2012, we have what’s called Early Childhood Community Networks and Ready Start Networks,” Sonnier explained. “[They] allow us to know where our children [and] families are and what they need, and [what] our providers [need] so [they] could … maintain and access that funding.”
Magner noted the critical importance of data collection in determining how to best spend federal funding, especially in a system as crucial as childcare.
“One of the things we uncovered during the pandemic was just how critical the childcare [and] early learning infrastructure is in our workforce,” he said. “I think we all sort of knew it in the back of our mind, but the pandemic really sort of ripped the bandaid off, and pointed out that the backbone of the economy … [had] some fragility.”
Left Unaddressed, the Childcare Funding Cliff Will Impact the Present and Future Workforce
Many states are either approaching or currently facing a childcare funding cliff, in part due to the loss of COVID relief dollars. Sonnier noted that Louisiana is currently experiencing a $200 million cliff that would cut access to childcare for 16,000 children.
“To think that this … won’t have an effect on our workforce and in our economy would be misguided. It is something immediate we need to rally around,” she emphasized. “[We are] so fortunate that our chambers of commerce and our businesses in the state are saying, ‘This will affect us. We need to figure this out.’”
Magner noted the added challenge of not only maintaining current childcare availability but expanding access.
“This is both a ‘right now’ problem and a future problem. The ‘right now’ problem is how [to] get our young people into a high-quality facility that allows their parents today to go to work,” he said. “But we also recognize the impact that early childhood education is going to have on [children’s] ability to be successful in the future.”
Everyone Plays a Role in Supporting Childcare and Education Solutions
Challenges in childcare and early childhood education cannot be solved in a silo. Both Sonnier and Magner stressed the importance of partnerships between the early childhood sector and the broader business community.
“What I’ve found with working with Tim and other chamber leaders in our state is that they have a different view of the world than I do,” said Sonnier. “You need that view of the world, because [members of the business community] are having different conversations than I would have within our business community.”
Magner agreed, emphasizing the importance of setting a “big table” — including childcare advocates, childcare providers, business leaders, and policymakers — to address this widespread challenge.
“Families benefit when parents can go to work and [their kids] can be taken care of. Businesses benefit when families are taken care of,” he said. “That’s where we begin to see the virtuous cycle that can be developed if we’re all at the table, discussing how we can collaborate to solve this ... need for our state, our region, and our communities.”