Apr 22, 2015

School Systems, Non-profits Will Apply for Funds to Coordinate Quality Review, Enrollment

BATON ROUGE, La. - The Louisiana Department of Education released today an application for local agencies to receive grant funds allowing them to serve as “Lead Agencies,” coordinating limited but important activities among child care, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten providers in their parishes or communities. Lead Agencies will be responsible for ensuring all early childhood centers are included in the CLASS observation and improvement system and that all families may participate in a school or program choice enrollment process. Both responsibilities are final elements of the state’s implementation of Act 3 of the 2012 legislative session, unifying the state’s previously fragmented system of early childhood education.

Since 2012, parishes and communities across the state have formed Early Childhood Community Network Pilots, coordinating the various programs within one system of quality improvement and parent choice. Act 3 requires full unification of the early childhood system within each network by fall 2015, though quality rating provisions of the law will have no consequences in the 2015-2016 year.

In preparation for final implementation of the law, the Department has issued a Request for Applications to identify Lead Agencies for each of the 62 Network Pilots. Any public, private or non-profit entity or consortium with an educational or social services mission may apply to be Lead Agency. In total Lead Agencies will be eligible for nearly $5 million in funding to conduct classroom observations, train and support teachers, and conduct a comprehensive enrollment system. All funds used on the project come from existing state and federal funds and have no revenue or cost implications for the state.

Lead Agencies will play only a coordinating role and are not responsible for licensing, grading or making funding decisions for early childhood programs or centers, all of which remain state-led functions. The Department is currently conducting a statewide training on new licensure policies and will propose a quality rating and licensure policy at the June meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

To support Lead Agencies, the Department also today released Louisiana’s Early Childhood Guidebook: Preparing Children for Kindergarten: Strengthening Early Childhood Programs & Community Networks.  The Guidebook, part of a series of three such Guidebooks the Department has released in the last two weeks, serves as a how-to guide with policies, best practices and examples of success in Louisiana to help local leaders and teachers prepare all children for kindergarten. 

“Since 2012, Community Network Pilots have made progress in unifying local early childhood efforts,” said State Superintendent John White. “After years of piloting, we know that one local agency should be responsible for ensuring classroom observations are conducted and that families have access to a fair and transparent enrollment process.”

In 2012, to address a fragmented early childhood system that prepares a little more than half of children for kindergarten, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 3 to unify the publicly-funded programs that serve children from birth to age 5 into a statewide early childhood network.  Communities created and piloted local networks of publicly-funded child care, Head Start, publicly-funded private preschools, and public school PreK.  These local networks are now under a unified state system of academic and development standards, enrollment, and teacher preparation expectations.

Along with the nearly $5 million in funding, the new Early Childhood Guidebook will support Lead Agencies to achieve the following:

  • Ensure every classroom is observed twice, reporting results to the State and sharing feedback with all publicly-funded programs so they can support teachers to improve.
  • Put procedures in place to make sure observers are well-trained and conflicts of interest are avoided.
  • Work with all publicly-funded programs to coordinate enrollment for children under age 5 through a unified application process for families.
  • Apply for new funding sources such as the Preschool Development Grant which will provide approximately $10 million to serve more at-risk children in the 2016-2017 year.

As a result of these requirements, more children will benefit from higher quality interactions and instruction and families will benefit from easier enrollment processes and increased access to quality options.

“While we’re excited to see these networks grow, we recognize the need for a long-term investment,” said Jonathan Pearce, President of the Child Care Association of Louisiana and child care owner. “This is a worthwhile endeavor that demands support of community leaders as they build local capacity. We applaud the effort to help improve the educational opportunities of our youngest learners.” 

"Louisiana has taken historic and bold steps by creating a statewide collaborative network enrollment system for our most at-risk and underserved children," said Alan Young, Early Childhood Care and Education Council member. "It is through this statewide network system that we will ensure that every available slot will be utilized and these children will receive the highest quality Early Childhood Education.  In addition, aligning the available resources and consolidating all of the Early Education Providers under one lead agency has provided us the opportunity for a united effort to ensure that every child enters kindergarten ready to learn."  

Prospective Lead Agencies must apply electronically, by submitting a copy of the application and all attachments to the Department’s secure website no later than 4:00 p.m. CST on Friday, May 15, 2015. All applicants must establish an account to submit their application.  Lead Agencies will be approved by the BESE in June and funding would begin in July.