Louisiana leaders talk about funding early education

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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - State and local leaders are trying to improve access to quality care and education for kids, especially for low-income families. It’s part of Louisiana Early Education Week, hosted by the United Way.

They say 90 percent of brain development happens between birth and age four, so building a solid foundation early can help children later in life.

"We’re no longer looking at early childcare as just a babysitting service. It is part of the educational continuum that actually starts at birth," says Lynn Clark, the executive director of The Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana.

She says it’s important to build an education before kids can even talk.

"It’s important that they’re in environments that are enriched, they're playing, they're moving, they're eating healthy food, they're talking, they're singing. All of those things are part of a quality childcare environment," Clark explains.

Experts say these interactions carry their education throughout life.

In fact, studies show over 40 percent of Louisiana’s kids are already behind when they start kindergarten, and kids who start behind usually stay behind.

"We’re expecting them to be school ready and we're expecting them to go on to college," Clark says about the children.

State lawmakers, like Senator Mike Walsworth, see the need for early education too.

"Every child deserves a chance to succeed," Walsworth states firmly.

Walworth says it can also improve some of Louisiana’s negative aspects, like education and criminal justice systems.

"If you're educated, you get a better job. If you get a better job, you don’t need to go out and steal from your neighbor. So it all fits together,” he explains.

A study in Chicago proves that early education can directly affect the criminal justice system. They say kids who got high-quality early education were 46 percent less likely to have been sentenced to jail or prison by age 40.

That's why some lawmakers, like Walsworth, are pushing to help fund early education.

"I’m hoping that we'll find some extra dollars to put more kids where they need to be, and that's to give them a chance to succeed," he says.

Experts say there have been some improvements to early education in recent years, and they're hoping the effects can be felt as time passes and these kids grow up.