Baton Rouge, La. — The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) recently approved six additional communities to pilot local strategies to increase access to and improve the quality of publicly-funded early childhood care and education. The action follows legislation passed in 2018 that allowed BESE to create and fund the pilot programs.
These community-based pilot programs, called Ready Start Networks, are coalitions of individuals committed to creating and implementing a bold local vision for early childhood education.
They 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 the Calcasieu Parish School System; the Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana, which will serve two communities; the East Baton Rouge Parish School System; the Delta Community Action Agency; and the Natchitoches Parish School System.
These communities join the initial seven Ready Start Networks approved in January 2019.
“Louisiana has built a nationally recognized, high-quality early childhood education system,” said State Superintendent John White, noting it was ranked No.8 in the nation by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “However, our system is not funded to serve the thousands of children and working families in need. We are proud of our local leaders for stepping up to further expand access to quality care and learning.”
Tony Davis, BESE member and a key support of the community-led initiatives, agreed, “Louisiana’s future is tied to the success of its children, and we have the opportunity to transform our future in one generation. Everyone has a shared responsibility to support the economy of today and shape the workforce of tomorrow. Communities working together will ensure this vision.”
The Evolution of Community Networks
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 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, 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 Next Phase of Local Responsibility
The Ready Start Network pilots represent the state’s 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 fundraising to satisfy the local demand for seats and for implementing the supports and resources necessary to improve the quality of local sites.
The Louisiana Department of Education will work closely to support and guide the progress of the Ready Start Networks by offering expert resources, on-demand consultation and technical assistance, site visits, webinars and communication support.
Ready Start Community Networks will 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.