Feb 06, 2013

BATON ROUGE, La. – Today, the Louisiana Department of Education, along with the Department of Children and Family Services and Department of Health and Hospitals, released a Request for Applications (RFA) for communities to participate in a pilot program as part of the implementation of the Early Childhood Care and Education Network.  The Community Network Pilot program invites school districts, child care providers, Head Start programs and other stakeholders within a community to work together to provide all children quality and equitable early childhood services, allowing policymakers to learn from their efforts prior to full implementation of the network in fall 2015.

“Currently, only half of Louisiana’s children enter kindergarten ready to learn; this reality is unacceptable and must be addressed. This pilot program is an important first step towards setting high standards for our youngest learners and ensuring that all of Louisiana’s students have a solid educational foundation by empowering and supporting those closest to them, educators and parents. State policymakers made a vital commitment to the success of our children, and this pilot builds on the collaboration of communities across the state to make their commitment a reality,” said State Superintendent John White.

The Early Childhood Care and Education Network was created through Act 3 of the 2012 Regular Legislative Session in order to unify the state’s fragmented system of early childhood education. The framework for implementing Act 3, approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in December 2012, proposes an expansion of access to high quality, publicly funded early childhood programs to families across Louisiana. Programs participating in the pilot will be supported to meet high standards for quality, and families will have easy-to-understand information to choose the program that will best prepare their young child for success in school. These pilot provisions are tied to the core of Louisiana Believes, the state’s plan to ensure that every child is on track to a college degree or a professional career.

Baton Rouge parent, Mia Clark-Comager, a Stand for Children Parent Leader, echoed her support for the pilot, "As a parent of three children aged 6, 11 and 13 and also as an early childhood provider, I want what’s best for my own children and the children in my programs.  I know that giving all children access to a high quality pre-k program means that  they will get a strong start and enter kindergarten ready to learn rather than behind with no chance to catch up.  I am glad the model calls on communities to work together!  As a parent, I encourage this collaboration with a focus on improving early childhood program quality and the increased effort to provide parents with information that helps us take action and make decisions that put our children on a path to learning, achievement, and bright futures.

Early childhood programs participating in the pilot will:

  • Identify all infant to age five children in the community attending or in need of publicly-funded child care and education services and develop a plan to serve all eligible four year olds
  • Use Louisiana’s new Birth to Five Early Learning and Development Standards
  • Participate in program and child assessments, receive a quality rating and share results
  • Develop and use a unified application process for all programs, starting with programs for four-year-olds

As a result of the pilots, more children will be served in high quality settings.  Equally important, communities will work together to ensure that fewer children fall through the cracks by making the most of available resources. Early childhood professionals that participate will improve their skills and receive feedback and mentoring. Using best-in-class assessment tools, educators and families will work hand in hand to support children’s development and learning from age 6 weeks to 5 years.

Karen Ponder, the former President of North Carolina’s Smart Start, an early childhood initiative with almost twenty years of results said, "I am pleased that Louisiana's leaders recognize the importance of communities in meeting the needs of young children and families.  We learned from experience in North Carolina that taking a long-term perspective in building these networks is critically important.  Getting better outcomes requires a clear vision, the state and local communities working together toward the same goals for young children, and resources from both the public and private sectors to continue to build quality.  Having children fully prepared to succeed in school takes families, communities and the state working together.  This pilot should mark the beginning of a long term commitment."

The framework leverages existing funding for early childhood programs - $1.4 billion including $300 million for early education – to increase the number of students who are academically and developmentally ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. The Department leveraged this funding by reallocating resources from less effective programs and working with partner agencies to apply existing funding set aside for quality improvement in childcare. Pilots will be awarded between $80,000 and $350,000 based on the number of children under the age of five within the community. In addition to funding, the Department of Education, Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Health and Hospitals will provide comprehensive training on new elements prescribed through Act 3 as well as coaching to communities during the development of their early childhood network.

The Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Develop and Lifelong Learning commended the efforts stating, “The Picard Center has researched the impact of preschool on 4 year old children in Louisiana for the last 10 years. We have confirmed the benefits of preschool to literally thousands of Louisiana children toward school readiness. We commend the Governor, Superintendent White, Representative Steve Carter, Senator Conrad Appel, and all BESE members that have had the vision to support early childhood professionals in the improvement of education to all Louisiana children from birth to age five.”

For the Early Child Care and Education Community Network Pilot Request for Applications, please click here.

For more information on early childhood education in Louisiana, please click here.

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