Newell: Louisiana kids can't compete without Edwards' early childhood education plan

Newell Normand
February 13, 2020 - 3:40 pm

Governor Edwards says one of the signature pieces of legislation he is supporting this year is the financing of early childhood education and development. The science is there, the experts seem to all agree - if states are looking for a return on investment in education, this is the best course of action. The real question is, will this bill make it through the legislature and become law? The numbers being proposed are not the full ask of what needs to be done, but it’s a good start. To help understand this initiative and where it’s headed, Newell invited Governor Edwards onto the program Thursday morning to discuss.

“Governor, the experts are all in agreement on this, the science of this is sound, but will there be an agreement in the state legislature?” Newell asked.

“I think there will be!” Edwards answered. “It just makes sense. 90% of brain development happens by the time a child is four years old. You can’t wait until after that to engage them and expect the best possible outcome. We need more of our young children getting good, quality early childhood education and childcare and we can only do that by expanding funding. The good news is, there is widespread bipartisan agreement in both the House and Senate on that. I’m also very heartened by all the business people that are supporting this initiative, and I really believe it will be the key to us finally producing the better education outcomes we want in Louisiana.”

“Would it be safe to say that if a child is behind, with the infrastructure and the manner in which we deliver education today, it’s almost impossible to get them caught up? We’re just not set up for that challenge, are we?” Newell continued. 

“That’s true,” the Governor said. “By the way, no state does a great job of catching kids up, but the reason we lag so much is that we have a bigger percentage of students showing up not ready to learn. Our schools do as good of a job as any in the country showing growth, but if you don’t have good quality early childhood education, it’s like starting a 100-yard dash, but you’re going to start 10 yards behind everyone else in the race.”

“We compete against every other state in the region,” Newell said. “You only need to go West to see a state that’s made a significant investment in early childhood education services, and obviously the results they’ve been achieving are pretty incredible, right?”

“Absolutely, and it’s not just Texas,” Edwards said. “We have parishes right here in Louisiana who have done much better than others. Look at West Feliciana Parish, a parish with more than its fair share of kids in poverty, but their public school system has invested in early childhood education and it’s universally available from age zero. They’ve been able to do it, quite frankly, because they have a nuclear reactor in the parish, and the property tax payments come in, but they’ve been disciplined enough to carve out a fairly sizeable chunk of that revenue committed to early childhood education, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. So we see the difference, not just for the first couple years, but all the way through 12th grade, which means it makes a difference in their life. We can look in Louisiana, look outside Louisiana, but what we can’t do is put our head in the sand and pretend this isn’t important, because it really is.”

“I'm always curious how we maintain these things,” Newell said. “We did a better job of this 10 or 12 years ago, and every time we reached a budget crisis, we cut mental health and early childhood services. How can we protect against that in the future?”

“A number of years ago, we were reaching as many as 40,000 four-year-olds with early childhood education. After a series of budget cuts, that number fell to 14,000. The difference will be that there is a much broader consensus about it now. You have advocates and business leaders all over the state who understand this issue, and for that reason, it’s going to be easier for future governors and legislators to prioritize this. Maybe that understanding was lacking in previous years. Now, we need to build our capacity for this, and maintain it, probably forever. I hope and believe we’re going to continue to be disciplined about this and will continue to maintain the consensus we have in a bipartisan way. I’m optimistic about it, I really am. I’m not naive, I understand you have budget cycles that go up and down and so forth, but I believe this will be well understood across the spectrum and we’ll do a better job moving forward.”

“We wish you the best of luck through the legislative process… hopefully, everyone gets on board and is able to hold it intact, get it funded and on its way, the sooner the better!” Newell finished.

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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