CONSENSUS GROWS FOR COLLABORATIVE EFFORT TO IMPROVE EARLY LEARNING

Nov 27, 2012

Stakeholders Offer Feedback on the Framework, Pilot Projects Coming Next

BATON ROUGE, La. - The Louisiana Department of Education will present a final framework for the Early Childhood Care and Education Network to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next week following months of collaboration between state agencies and stakeholders. The framework, which includes feedback and suggestions from the BrightStart Early Childhood Advisory Council, the Nonpublic School Commission, and the Child Care Association of Louisiana, will expand access to high quality, publicly-funded early childhood programs to families across Louisiana. Early next year, the Department will issue a competitive bid for pilot projects which will be instrumental in developing the quality rating system to evaluate programs and strengthening coordination and collaboration at the local level.

"Improving outcomes and setting up future success for our youngest learners is the goal of publicly-funded early childhood programs," State Superintendent of Education John White said. "By working together to develop and implement this new system for early childhood programs, we will give students the best start in school, which could ultimately change children’s lives in significant and lasting ways." 

Act 3 of the 2012 Regular Legislative Session, also known as the Early Childhood Education Act, directed the Louisiana Department of Education to coordinate the multi-agency effort to better prepare young children for success in school.  The proposed framework leverages existing early childhood program funding - $1.4 billion, including $300 million for early education - to increase the number of students academically and developmentally ready to succeed when they enter kindergarten. 

"Throughout the process of drafting this framework, the Department engaged various stakeholders and the public and listened to their recommendations and input," said White.  "It was through this important and crucial feedback that commonalities were found and the framework was constructed.  We must continue to work together to improve early childhood in our state."

To date, the state has increased the percentage of children who enter kindergarten ready to learn to 54 percent.  Research shows children who participate in high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn.  Short-term benefits include better academic and social performance in school, lower retention rates, and fewer referrals to special education.  Long-term benefits are higher graduation rates, increased learning potential and an increased participation in the labor force.  

"The state has made significant strides in early childhood education, and studies show that our efforts are paying off," said Penny Dastugue, President of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  "The early learning framework outlined in Act 3 will advance our work even further. Feedback and collaboration from our community and agency partners was essential in the development of a framework to deliver quality early childhood education to all Louisiana schoolchildren."

The framework employs four core strategies to accomplish the goals of the new law.  These strategies reflect a shared vision:   

  1. Fair and transparent, outcomes-based, quality rating system, including letter grades, that rewards high-performing programs and intervenes in persistently under-performing programs.
  2. Funding based on performance and demand that ensures all parents - regardless of income - have access to higher-quality programs that prepare their child for success in school.
  3. Families have information to make informed decisions about what program is best for their young child and greater access to high-quality choices.
  4. Resources and support to improve the quality of care and instruction that ensures all students have access to effective early childhood professionals.

As required by the new law, early childhood stakeholders and the public provided the Department of Education with formal feedback on the draft framework for the multi-year implementation of the Early Childhood Care and Education Network.  The feedback from the BrightStart Early Childhood Advisory Council, Nonpublic School Commission, and the Child Care Association of Louisiana built upon the collaborative engagement utilized to develop the framework.

In their feedback, stakeholders noted specific support for one uniform network with coordinated systems and processes and high standards of quality for early childhood development.  Stakeholders also voiced their support for more accountability and autonomy for programs through the streamlining and alignment of regulations, licensing, and a quality rating system.

Recommendations around the strategies of the proposed framework include being thoughtful in the development of an outcomes-based quality rating system with letter grades, creating incentives to prioritize the neediest children, specifically children with disabilities and emphasizing family education and involvement.  Other recommendations include support for early childhood professionals and increasing the equity of funding resources across all early childhood settings.

"Louisiana moving in the direction of higher expectations regarding the care of children from birth to age 5 is priceless.  We live in a state with a high degree of poverty, and we know that the time from birth to 5 is critical in the formation of children in total," West Baton Rouge Superintendent David Corona said.  "This Act will clearly help improve the way of life for all Louisianans, and at the same time, provide great opportunities for children who otherwise would not have had them.  If we can get our children better prepared for kindergarten, they will have greater opportunities to soar and thrive like never before."

Implementation of the framework will take place over a three-year period with full implementation in the 2015-2016 school year.  During this implementation period, the Department will run a number of pilot programs starting in 2013-2014 to gather data that will inform and help finalize timelines for scaling the Network across the state and demonstrate the importance of including children with disabilities and special needs.  In addition, the pilot programs will provide an opportunity to continue to collaborate with stakeholders to identify ways to fund or subsidize improvement efforts.

"Using pilots to test these strategies in communities across the state is critical to the Framework’s success.  We can learn what works well and what we need to change before we implement on a statewide scale.  This approach also empowers communities to build or strengthen collaborative efforts at the local level in order to ensure better outcomes for young children," noted Lafayette Superintendent Pat Cooper.

Partners in the development of the early childhood education network include the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Health and Hospitals. Before releasing the framework for the development of the network, the three state agencies held nine regional forums and numerous meetings and conference calls with providers and stakeholders. The interagency coalition also conducted a focus group with early childhood leaders and conducted stakeholder surveys.  The results were used in developing the framework.

# # # # # #