Louisiana launches pilot programs to increase early childhood education access

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) gave $700,000 worth of grants to seven communities to establish “Ready Start Community Networks.”

The grants totaling $700,000 were allocated to seven communities who are engaging in a new pilot program called Ready Start Community Networks (RSCN). They were designed to increase access to and improve the quality of publicly funded early childhood care and education. The program is a result of legislation passed in 2018 directing BESE to create and fund the pilot programs.

RSCNs 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.

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

“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.”

“A strong early childhood education system is key–for the development of our youngest learners and for our state’s workforce,” said Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie), who sponsored the legislation that prompted the creation of the pilots, as well as a state-level commission to study early childhood education.

There are 65 early childhood community networks in Louisiana. Each network is led by a “lead agency,” a state-approved entity, like a school system or organization that 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, BESE states. Their efforts help inform annual performance profiles that the state conducts twice a year.

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 existing early childhood community network model, which began with 13 pilot programs and expanded statewide in 2015.

The RSCNs received a nearly $8 million award from the state earlier this month. The pilot networks will build on their past efforts to establish formal governance structures that will support all early childhood care and education efforts in a community. They will be charged with assessing local demand for seats and for implementing the supports and resources necessary to improve the quality of local sites.

“The Rapides Early Childhood Network is thrilled to be a Ready Start Community Network pilot. We were part of the initial network pilots in 2013 with the passage of Act 3 and feel strongly that this work is the next step in empowering our community toward ensuring that every family has access to quality care,” said Cindy Rushing, early childhood coordinator for the Rapides Parish School System. “Our community network is poised for more local responsibility and to find innovative solutions and resources that are critical for quality improvements for children birth to age 5.”

Over the next two years, the Louisiana Department of Education will offer on-demand consultation and technical assistance, site visits, webinars and communication support.

RSCNs will regularly report updates to the state education department after which the 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 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.”



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