BATON ROUGE, La. — In order to achieve more consistent and unified early childhood education programming, the Louisiana Department of Education has moved to expand the state’s Early Childhood Network Pilot Program. The department released a Request for Applications (RFA) in early December, allowing new applicants to apply for funding, and join the first round of parishes already working to unify their programs.
Currently, publicly funded early childhood education programs across Louisiana vary greatly, and lack a consistent set of student expectations. To remedy this, the department selected 15 districts in April 2013 to participate in a year-long early childhood education pilot program, intended to solidify standards and increase ease of enrollment.
These first round pilot parishes have already made great strides in early childhood education through training staff in the Birth to Five Early Learning Development Standard, and instituting both the CLASS professional development tool for teachers and the Teaching Strategies GOLD child development assessment. These schools have also worked to identify all children up to age five in their community in need of education services.
This second pilot program will further help Louisiana in unifying its various programs. It is also a key step in implementing Act 3 of the 2012 Legislative Session requiring the state to reform its fragmented system. "No longer can we accept radically different standards for student learning depending on the program or funding stream," said State Education Superintendent John White. "We are thrilled with the results of the pilots to date…they are well on their way to unifying the system so that childcare is working hand in hand with pre-K and Headstart."
According to White, presently only half of Louisiana children entering kindergarten are able to recognize the letters of the alphabet, or count to 20. “Changing this starts with unifying our expectations for all students, “ said White. “By applying to participate in the second round of pilots, communities have the opportunity to begin this important work prior to the 2015 statewide expansion.”
Louisiana education leaders have long been pushing for improved early childhood programming. The fall 2012 report “Early Childhood Risk and Reach in Louisiana”, published by the LSU/Tulane Early Childhood Policy and Data Center, examined a variety of contributors to childhood success, as well as the state’s existing programs. According to the report, 55 of the state’s 64 parishes scored high on at least one of 11 risk factors related to poor early childhood outcomes, and more than 111,000 children live in the 31 parishes identified as either Moderate-High or High Risk.
However, according to Geoff Nagle, director of the Tulane University Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, “The report shows that almost all parishes, regardless of their current risk ranking, have strengths from which to build and vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.”
Parishes selected for Round 2 of the Early Childhood Network Pilots will receive between $80,000 and $350,000 in training and implementation funds. Electronic copies of the RFA have been made public on the www.louisianabelieves.com, and applications will be accepted through Jan. 22, 2014. Round 2 Network Pilots will be made public in March of 2014. The state plans to have programs in place that will serve all eligible four-year-olds by July 2015