Filed Under:  Education, Local

N.O. City Council to push for funding of early childhood education

6th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing writer

New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams is calling for a $750,000 budget allocation for early childhood education across the city.

The long-term goal of emphasizing early childhood education is to reduce poverty and increase the number of middle-class New Orleanians, which would in turn increase the city’s tax base. Williams said this strategy will address the causes of poverty and crime, as opposed to something like building more jails, which addresses the symptoms. He added that the council is “united” on this issue.

“Funding for early childhood education is one of my budget priorities,” said Susan Guidry, Councilmember for District A. “I know that Councilmember Head has been working on this program for a number of years. We are one month from voting on the budget, the revenue projections are not yet clear, and there are a few multi-million dollar priorities that have not yet been budgeted, but I am hopeful that we can find the funding for 2018.”

The City Council will have to pass a budget for 2018 before December. Williams said the council will work with the mayor on where to allocate money. While he acknowledges that they may not get the $750,000 they want, he is optimistic that they will get some funding.

“Our goal is at least to fund it on some meaningful level,” Williams said. “We have a real opportunity here to place our city at the national forefront of early childhood education… We can create generations of educated, prosperous New Orleanians by putting children on a track for success with high-quality early care and education.”

Williams emphasized that this funding would not come from any tax increase. It would just move money from the general fund to early childhood education. It would not create new programs, but it would instead help place poor or at-risk children in early childhood education programs. As of right now, less than 16 percent of at-risk New Orleans children ages 0-3 have access to a publicly-funded child care seat.

“When children start kindergarten with a learning gap or deficit, the entire system (support staff, teachers, administrators, etc.) becomes stressed as they work diligently to get and keep the child on grade reading level,” said Dana Henry, New Orleans director of Stand for Children. “So, by the time they get to 4th grade, they’re likely off grade level and the gap continues to grow, if the necessary interventions are scarce. That’s why we need to invest in the foundation.”

Henry said Stand for Children is one of over 100 non-profit organizations calling on New Orleans to take a progressive step towards early childhood education funding.

“For every $1 invested, economists show at least a $13 return on the civic side in terms of reduced dropout rates, lower SPED (special education) seats, workforce expansion for parents, and higher earnings in life for college graduates,” Henry said.

Williams echoed Henry’s sentiments. He also stated that many mothers leave the workforce to care for their children during the pre-kindergarten years. If more children have access to early childhood education programs, it can reduce a financial burden on the family by allowing the mother to return to work.

Williams said a challenge politicians face when addressing these issues is a tendency to measure progress by whether or not it happens within an elected term. He said politicians have to put these concerns aside and think about what will benefit the city in 20 to 30 years. He pointed to strategies Atlanta made in the 1970s that helped secure its prosperity today. The additional investments in early childhood education may not have immediate dividends, but the positive results will happen.

“It’s a long game, but it’s a smart game,” Williams said.

This article originally published in the November 6, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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