On Oct. 18, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation co-sponsored an event in Baton Rouge to release the foundation’s new report, “Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Childcare.” At the event, early learning experts, business representatives, education officials and legislators all stressed the critical need for quality early learning opportunities and access to safe, affordable child care.
Today, a majority of children live in homes where both parents work. Access to affordable, high-quality child care is all too often an elusive necessity. Lack of reliable child care leads to absenteeism, job turnover and loss of productivity at work. Businesses that support child care are more able to attract and retain workers. A survey by the Early Care and Learning Council found that when companies provide child care, employee absences decrease by up to 30 percent and job turnover declines by as much as 60 percent. A recent survey in Louisiana found that one in six respondents left a job due to child care issues, and one in 13 were terminated from a job due to recurring childcare issues.
High-quality child care is not a luxury; it is a workforce necessity. Women still carry the primary responsibility for child care but now also make up half of the American workforce. Mothers are 40 percent of primary breadwinners. Still, in the Louisiana survey, women were six to seven times more likely to leave a job due to child care issues, five times as likely to leave full-time work for part-time, and six times as likely to turn down a promotion due to concerns over childcare.
A high-quality learning environment for children is equally critical, providing the foundation for a strong future workforce. It lays the groundwork for academic, economic and social success. Additionally, the return on public investment in early learning is high, up to $16 for every $1 spent. Examples of future tax savings are: reduced crime and incarceration rates; increased tax revenue due to higher rates of employment and higher wages later in life; better-performing public schools; improved public health; reduced rates of special needs students; less dependence on social programs; and more educated, skilled workers.
Research has shown that in the first three years of life, the human brain forms more than 1 million new neural connections every second. Without proper attention during this critical development period, children begin school unprepared to learn and are already behind at the early age of 5.
Louisiana has already begun the work of improving access and quality of childcare. Act 3 of 2012 established a foundation of fundamental quality standards in early childhood education. It unified preschool, Head Start and child care programs into Innovative Community Networks, which operate under a unified system of academic and development standards, parental choice, teacher preparation standards and accountability. They are led by local lead agencies that are responsible for coordinating the choices and evaluations based on teaching and learning.
Although Louisiana’s networks now encompass 1,600 child care, Head Start, and school sites serving 100,000 children, issues of access and quality remain major challenges. Only half of Louisiana’s children enter kindergarten ready to learn. Louisiana serves only 30 percent of low-income children, and low-rated child care sites need assistance to improve. Much remains to be done, and Louisiana businesses have a vested interest in exploring all viable options to ensure that every student enters school ready to learn.
Child care affects Louisiana workers, and therefore the economy. It is time that the issue is elevated to other important workforce issues that affect the availability of a trained, ready workforce and economic development, such as critical thinking, literacy, training and soft skills education.
Brigitte Nieland is vice president for program and workforce development and director of education and workforce development for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.