Parish gets early ed pilot program

Published 4:42 am Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has allocated $700,000 total to seven communities to pilot new strategies to increase access to and improve the quality of publicly funded early childhood care and education. The Washington Parish School System is one of the seven systems chosen for the pilot programs.

The action follows legislation passed in 2018 that allowed BESE to create and fund the programs.

The pilot programs, called Ready Start Community Networks, will spend two years developing new local governance structures; assessing local demand for early care and education; providing resources and training to teachers to improve classroom quality; implementing fundraising strategies; and sharing their findings with state leaders to inform future policymaking.

The work will be guided by Washington Parish, along with the Iberville Parish School System, Jefferson Parish School System, Lafayette Parish School System, New Orleans Early Education Network, Rapides Parish School System, and St. Mary Parish Community Action Agency, Inc.

“Louisiana recognizes that communities, rather than the state, are best suited to address the unique early childhood care and education needs of their families and children,” said State Superintendent John White. “When those unique needs are met, more children enter kindergarten prepared, and in turn, more children are positioned for success in the early elementary grades and beyond.”

Prior to the passage of Act 3 in 2012, Louisiana had no statewide unified system of early childhood care and education. In 2013, the state introduced the early childhood community network model that is now in place. This model started with 13 pilot programs and expanded statewide by 2015.

Today, Louisiana has 65 early childhood community networks. Each network is led by a “lead agency,” a state-approved entity, such as a school system or organization, which serves as the point of contact for local care providers and as the liaison with the state education department. Currently, lead agencies serve a primarily administrative role, overseeing data collection and reporting, ensuring the observations that inform annual performance profiles are conducted twice a year, and coordinating enrollment. They are not responsible for the quality of sites within their community.

The Ready Start Community Networks, funded by a nearly $8-million award received by the state earlier this month, represent the next phase of supporting local responsibility. Rather than acting only as a consortium of care providers, the pilot networks will take a more collaborative approach to decision-making by establishing formal governance structures that support all early childhood care and education efforts in a community. Moreover, the pilot networks will be charged with assessing local demand for seats and for implementing the supports and resources necessary to improve the quality of local sites.

Over the next two years, the Louisiana Department of Education will work closely to support and guide the progress of the Ready Start Community Networks by offering on-demand consultation and technical assistance, site visits, webinars and communication support.

Ready Start Community Networks will be required to report updates to the state education department throughout the course of the pilot. At the close of the pilot, these findings will be publicly shared.

“The Early Childhood Care and Education Commission looks forward to working with and learning from the Ready Start Community Networks,” said State Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), who chairs the state-level panel. “It is our hope these efforts will create a road map to benefit our state for the future. Our children and our families deserve it.”