Child care in La. is bargain, study finds
From: Shreveport times.com
BATON ROUGE — A national survey of child care costs finds Louisiana one of the most affordable places for parents sending pre-school children to day care centers.
But that still doesn’t mean it’s cheap.
For some parents, however, it could be cheaper to send a student to college for a year — particularly a community college — than to pay for a day care center. That’s especially true if a student has earned a TOPS scholarship or qualifies for a federal Pell Grant.
A 2010 study by NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, assembled statistics from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
It found Louisiana’s average cost of $5,900 for infants, $4,400 for 4-year-olds and $2,450 for school-aged children among the lowest. Only Alabama and Mississippi were lower.
“Yes, child care in Louisiana is less than it is in other states,” said Gail Kelso, head of the division of Child Development and Early Learning in the state Department of Children and Family Services, “but those are averages. Parents always spend what they think is reasonable.”
Where the center is located can play a major role in costs, Kelso said. Day care generally is more expensive in urban areas than rural areas, and it’s higher in upscale neighborhoods.
“Depending on the neighborhood, the clientele and the mission, costs may wildly fluctuate,” Kelso said.
Carrie Crayton, of Bossier City, is a mother of two — Beau McCrory, 5, Izabella Crayton, 20 months old — and a full-time student at Bossier Parish Community College. She says she can’t afford child care.
“To put both kids in day care was going to cost me about $600 to $700 a month, so I have to go back and forth between my mom and aunt watching them,” Crayton says. “A lot of the time, neither one of them can do it, so I can only go to school two days a week now.”
She says her tuition for a semester plus books at BPCC is $1,700.
“I’m lucky enough to have family to help me at least enough to go to school and do homework,” she says. “The state offers free and reduced child care, but it’s nearly impossible to get.”
In Shreveport, Evangel Learning Center Director Kristy Harvill said, “I think the price of day care in Louisiana is low because salaries for hourly pay are low. Salaries are higher in Dallas or Houston, so you pay more in those areas.”
Harvill acknowledges that the cost of day care is not cheap and “is pretty much the same as private school” for all-day care of preschoolers. “It doesn’t get any cheaper as they get older.”
Evangel charges $455 by the month, so it averages out to about $105 a week, she said.
“The price is very good for what you get,” she said. “A lot of people are higher.”
Ten years ago in Houston, she paid $750 a month.
Included in Evangel’s offerings, along with age-appropriate instruction and daily Bible stories, the center’s website says, “Our program offers Internet access cameras so that you will be able to watch your child’s progress through the program.”
Evangel is considered a Class B center under the DFCS certification, but that has nothing to do with quality, Kelso said. Class B centers are often run by non-profits or church organizations and do not accept state or federal funds.
In the NCCRRA study, Massachusetts, with an average cost of $16,500 per year for full-time care, was the most expensive overall and least affordable for single-mother families and two-parent families with infants, the NACCRRA study shows. Using the median income for a single mother in Massachusetts ($28,510), that’s 58.7 percent of her income for child care.
In Louisiana, the average single mother income is $18,435, the study shows. The average $5,900 a year cost for child care eats up 32 percent of a single mom’s annual income.
By comparison, a student who has a TOPS scholarship would forgo the $4,864 tuition enrolling at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette a year but would be responsible only for room and board and books. However, the university estimates that an on-campus resident would pay $5,738 for room and board, and books and supplies would cost $1,200. Living at home or sharing housing with several students could reduce that cost.
LSU estimates total cost for a year, including $16,000 tuition, to total $30,000.
Tuition and fees at Delta Community College in Monroe — or at other community colleges — is $2,662 a year for full-time, definitely cheaper than day care.
DCFS and the federal government offer assistance to low-income families to be able to afford day care for their children, Kelso said. “Unfortunately, support doesn’t extend to all families.”
But there are state tax breaks for anyone who has a child in day care and an additional break for parents who use a center enrolled in a DCFS program that encourages quality care.
Information on the child care expense credit is available on the Department of Revenue website, www.revenue.louisiana.gov.
Additional tax credits, under the School Readiness Credit are available for parents with taxable income of $25,000 or less whose children are enrolled in centers that participate in the DCFS “Quality Start” Child Care Rating System.
Owners and operators of day care centers, directors and employees of the centers, and private providers who participate in the program are eligible for tax credits, too, as long as they meet standards set by DCFS.
Information on participating or finding a participating center is available at www.qrslouisiana.org.
The highest ranking is a five-star facility. Among those are the University of Louisiana at Monroe Child Development Center, the NSU Head Start Center in Natchitoches, the Louisiana Tech University Early Childhood Education Center, the Alphonse Jackson Jr. Early Head Start Center in Shreveport and the PEP-C Child Care Lab in Shreveport.
Information on day care centers, including where to find them, their offerings, inspection reports and whether they participate in the Quality Start program can be found at www.dss.louisiana.gov.
To find a licensed center and get reports, look under the “What do you want to do?” heading and click on the licensed center link. To check what centers are under Quality Start Star ratings, click on the Child Development and Early Learning link in the left column.
Times Staff Writer Devin White contributed to this story.