Early childhood education advocates said Tuesday they were heartened to hear Gov. John Bel Edwards say he would be open to dedicating any revenue from sports betting to better prepare children for kindergarten.
Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said she was thrilled and excited when she learned the governor made the comments Monday to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
“We need a secure funding source for early childhood education,” Bronfin said.
Cindy Bishop, executive director of the Child Care Association of Louisiana, noted that, even if sports betting is legalized in Louisiana, any revenue for state services would be modest .
“But I think it is a good start to put our priorities or emphasis on funding early childhood education,” Bishop said.
Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, has said he plans to make another effort in 2019 to legalize sports betting in Louisiana after his 2018 bid died in the Legislature.
Backers think the early success of the games in Mississippi and elsewhere, and the fact that 47 of the state’s 64 parishes endorsed sports fantasy games for sports last year, means a new push this year has a better chances of succeeding.
The state’s bid to prepare needy students for kindergarten is a patchwork of funding sources.
Despite daunting financial challenges, Louisiana needs to focus on offering affordable child care for infants and toddlers, a national expert …
Five funding streams are used for four-year-olds alone, Bronfin said.
Edwards said some advocates hope to ensure that any dollars raised by sports betting go for early childhood programs.
He said he generally thinks the state has too many dedicated funds.
“However, I support early childhood education initiatives enough that this is a conversation I am willing to have,” he said.
Backers say that, while about 90 percent of needy four-year-olds are covered, only 15 percent of those birth to age 3 are served.
Barely half of public school students in Louisiana are considered ready to learn when they enter school.
“When a child starts kindergarten and they have a vocabulary deficit in the thousands of words, no one has taken the time or made the effort to read to them so they learn words and shapes and colors and various concepts, it makes a difference for that child over his or her lifetime,” Edwards said. “We have to do better.”
Last week the state Department of Education announced that Louisiana is getting nearly $8 million in federal dollars to improve the quality of early education.
Louisiana is getting nearly $8 million to improve the quality of early childhood education, officials said Wednesday.
However, those funds cannot be used for new slots.
Bronfin said that, while her group is not advocating sports betting, states with dedicated funds for early childhood education often rely on sin taxes.
Arizona and California use dedicated tobacco tax revenue for early childhood programs, which raise $143 million and $358 million per year respectively, according to the Policy Institute of Louisiana.
Georgia uses 25 percent of its lottery revenue for pre-kindergarten programs and college scholarships.
Missouri, Connecticut, Kansas and Kentucky use some of their tobacco settlement proceeds for pre-kindergarten efforts.
Louisiana uses lottery proceeds for basic state aid for public schools.
Some of the state’s share of tobacco settlement dollars helps finance the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS.
If the state legalizes sports betting how much it would raise would depend on a wide range of factors, including tax rates and how they are applied.
Edwards said he is awaiting a report on short- and long-term early childhood needs.
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“The amount of revenue to Louisiana through sports betting is not going to be terribly significant,” he said.
But the governor said Louisiana has “way more than our fair share” of children ill-prepared to start school.
“If we are serious about education in Louisiana this is something we are going to have to do,” Edwards said. “We are not going to be able to wait until kindergarten any longer.”
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.