By Victor Skinner | The Center Square
The Louisiana Department of Education has distributed more than $17 million in grants to child care providers across the state in a second round of stipends.
The Department of Education’s (DOE) second round of the Teacher Support Grant for child care providers awarded $17,492,800 in one-time stipends or wage supplements to more than 700 open child care providers in recognition of teachers’ COVID-19 front-line service, according to a department statement.
The February funding followed an initial round of grants totaling $10,681,600 distributed to more than 600 open child care providers in August. The money is aimed at incentivizing teachers to stay in the early childhood field as it rebounds from the pandemic.
The DOE cited research from the University of Virginia that found more than half of early childhood educators are unable to pay for medical expenses, 40% struggle to buy food and 30% report difficulty paying rent.
Another report submitted by the DOE to the Legislature highlighted the high turnover and low pay for early childhood care and education workers in Louisiana. About 35% of teachers in early childhood classrooms leave each year, and the rate is closer to 44% in child care centers. Only about one-third of teachers in public early childhood classrooms remain in their positions for three years, according to the report.
Pay is a significant factor, with the typical child care teacher earning about $20,000 a year, or less than half of what school-based teachers earn. The pay is below the federal poverty level for a family of three and likely why nearly 27% of early childhood teachers work second jobs, according to the DOE report.
“Teachers working in early care and education are still paid less than their service-industry counterparts,” said Cynthia DiCarlo, professor of early childhood education at Louisiana State University and executive director of the LSU Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool. “Until we decide as a state to pay teachers at par with other job opportunities, we will not move forward with quality early childhood care and education in Louisiana.”
The DOE report to the Legislature also pointed to research from 2017 that showed before the pandemic, Louisiana’s economy lost an estimated $1.1 billion a year because of absences and turnover in the child care field.
“When qualified, experienced educators are constantly leaving the field, it’s inevitable that we will see direct impacts on quality,” said Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children. “Either a program will have a ceiling of success that it will not be able to exceed, or worse, we will start seeing a reduction in quality as programs struggle to recruit and retain strong early care and education staff.”
The DOE grants are part of a multiyear strategy of stabilizing the early childhood workforce, with teacher retention and compensation a major factor.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed state budget calls for a $43.4 million increase for early childhood education, which includes a more than $17 million increase for the LA-4 Early Childhood Program and “a significant investment” in the Early Childhood Education Fund.