Joseph’s 1-year-old daughter, Jani, is among the 48 percent of children in the Crescent City who live in single-mother households. Last December, Joseph applied for childcare assistance, but was told she made $70 too much. To qualify, she needed to make less than $2,150 a month, or $25,800 a year.
“If $70 is the difference, I don’t think that’s a good reason to reject someone for childcare assistance,” Joseph, 22, said recently. “It’s not like I’m asking for the money to go shopping or something frivolous. I’m asking to send my child to school.”
Two-thirds of children in Louisiana have parents in the workforce, and experts say a lack of viable early-education options for many kids is taking it’s toll: In Louisiana, nearly 46 percent of kids are unprepared for kindergarten.
The situation wasn’t always so alarming. Over the previous seven years, the Child Care Assistance Program was cut by nearly 70 percent, a plunge experts attribute to two sources: a dearth of state funds being funneled into early education and the continued misuse of federal money meant to help the poor.
The result is that, as of recently, about 12,700 children receive assistance under the program every month, down from about 39,400 in the 2008-09 school year, according to Melanie Bronfin, the executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.
The Pelican State focuses what resources it does put toward early childhood on 4-year-olds, Bronfin says. In addition to CCAP and the federal Head Start program, children have access to five public pre-k programs, which enroll 87 percent of at-risk kids in that age group. The state Department of Education defines children as “at risk” if they live in families with an income of 185 percent above the federal poverty level or less, if they have special needs, are English-language learners, are in foster care, or are homeless.
Simply put, families that consist of one parent and one child like Kinsley’s and Jani’s are “at risk” if the parent makes about $29,630 or less per year.
For children age 3 and younger, the state relies on just three programs: the depleted Child Care Assistance Program; the federally funded Head Start program; and Early Head Start, a companion program, which last year covered about 2,400 kids from birth through age 2.
Last year, the Louisiana Department of Education reported that about 168,300 at-risk children were under age 4. With state resources going to 4-year-olds, a little more than 14 percent of these younger children received public assistance. Without the aid, families of the remaining children—almost 144,000 kids—had little hope of affording licensed childcare.
Data on at-risk families with 1-year-olds—kids like Kinsley and Jani—was even more alarming: Only 7.3 percent of these families were served, leaving some 39,000 in the lurch.