In 2005, Louisiana completed a state economic impact of the child care industry report. The report was coordinated by the Department of Social Services and the research was spearheaded by the Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at Tulane University. The report resulted in bringing to the state’s attention the importance of quality care and early learning experiences. The report reframes the ECE message and enables, when needed, a more subtle approach to bringing attention to the need for state investment. In a state with a strong commitment to recruiting businesses and a focus on providing incentives for investment as part of ongoing recovery efforts, the economic message around ECE has not yet taken firm hold. There is still hesitation in thinking about ECE as an economic issue.
Using Economic Messages
Louisiana has faced many challenges since Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005, as the economic infrastructure at every level requires significant investment. Thinking about the connections between ECE and economic development in the context of recovery, rebuilding and investing for the future has resulted in some significant ECE investments. An innovative school readiness tax credit enacted through legislative action along with a quality rating system has the potential to greatly benefit the ECE system. These initiatives, coupled with the strategies and approaches gaining traction at the local level, are creating mechanisms for driving ECE investments. All are positive steps in helping families come back to New Orleans. In a recent survey, housing and child care were the top 2 identified needs by families wanting to rebuild and return to the city.
Businesses are very interested in ECE especially as now many are feeling the burden of their workers no longer having quality care. United Way and its partners are working directly with some large employers to try and meet ECE needs for their current workforce. With the severe shortage of ECE, employers are now considering subsidizing slots for their workers at onsite facilities. United Way and its board members, many of whom are part of the business community, have identified child care as a critical need. Having this commitment from the United Way board has provided an opening to engage many diverse stakeholders who have not historically be connected to ECE.
The economic message creates an opportunity to focus on the business of ECE. The United Way of Greater New Orleans has hosted several workshops for ECE providers on how to run a better business. Small business training and other information is part of a goal to rebuild stronger ECE businesses that are more economically viable and offer higher quality service. These business oriented workshops focus on increasing capacity, budgeting and business documentation, as well as increasing awareness of the quality rating systems and how to participate.
Data has helped build a better understanding of the human and financial needs of ECE business as its role in building a quality ECE system. As part of the efforts to build better ECE businesses, the United Way of Greater New Orleans is working to document the process and resources needed to move a ECE center from start-up through national accreditation. A demonstration is being conducted with three nonprofit centers of different sizes and in different locations. Emphasis is placed on organizational assessment, board development, fundraising and budgeting. Work is also focused on assisting the centers in developing a business plan connected to increasing their business’s quality of care. The demonstration is reaching its conclusion and it is anticipated that the centers will achieve their national accreditation by this fall.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
The United Way of Greater New Orleans is an instrumental partner in securing and leveraging local resources to invest in early education. These efforts focus on the physical rebuilding of ECE spaces at level of quality higher then prior to the hurricane. The economic impact report has been used as the focal point for a series of breakfast meetings held in all the parishes they serve.
The Greater New Orleans Child Care Rebuild Collaborative is an effort of roughly 20 state and local partners including the United Way, universities, funders and businesses working to address the ECE shortage and help existing centers to reopen. The Collaborative has raised about $2.3 million for physical structures and several small grants for equipment and technical assistance. To be eligible for the funding, the child care centers must agree to participant in the Quality Rating System and save slots for low income children on subsidies. The local Resource and Referral organization is providing technical assistance to enable participating centers to reach at least a 3 star quality rating. Funding goes directly to vetted contractors who are working with the Collaborative to complete renovations and repairs.
State and Legislative Actions
Bright Start is a comprehensive ECE system plan overseen by the Louisiana Governor’s Children’s Cabinet and the Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Advisory Group. The strategic plan, completed in 2005, included among its goals the creation of a quality rating system and a system of tax credits to encourage quality investments. Quality Start is the voluntary quality rating system developed with input from a 37-member steering committee of stakeholders from across the state.
In 2007 the Louisiana Legislature passed the School Readiness Tax Credit package that supports investment in quality child care and encourages participation in the new Quality Start voluntary rating system. These financial incentives are tied directly to participation in the quality rating system. There are four different tax credits available. Credits are available to parents, child care providers, the child care workforces and the business community. These refundable tax credits increase based on the level of care purchased by parents, offered by center or invested in by business. There are no caps on the credits and they offer a wide variety of opportunities for all engaged in or purchasing child care. The tax credit took effect in January 2008. Efforts are ongoing to educate the community about the credits. As part of this effort, Louisiana State University completed a survey of 1,700 child care providers to ask about their awareness of the tax credit and their ability to use them. It is anticipated this survey will be used as baseline data for future evaluation on tax credit up take. Significant time and resources are being placed at the local level on educating child care providers and teachers about how to take advantage of the credit and its link to the quality rating system.
Future policy action will focus on phasing in universal preschool over the next six years and ensuring a minimum quality rating of those programs.
Quality Start offers information about the quality rating system, questions about participations and a listing of centers with stars. There is also detailed information about the school readiness tax credits.
The Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families is a statewide child advocacy organization for Louisiana's children and families. The Partnership promotes best practices, provides training and pursues public policy to improve the well-being of the state's children. The website offers information on their policy work and programs as well as current policy and legislative news items.