Jan 23, 2019

BESE Approves Subgrants Totaling $700,000 to Establish "Ready Start Community Networks"

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) today 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 action follows legislation passed in 2018 that allowed BESE to create and fund the pilot 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 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. "Our families, our care providers, our community leaders must have a seat at the table in deciding how we create and sustain a system that is truly accessible, affordable and high-quality."

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 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.

"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."

Informing the Future 
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 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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