The New World of Early Learning in Louisiana

 

The Early Childhood Education Act (Act 3)

In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature passed the Early Childhood Education Act (Act 3) that mandated an overhaul by 2015 of the entire early childhood care and education system in the state—that is, an overhaul of the governance, licensing, accountability, and funding structure of all publicly funded early learning programs for children birth through age four in Louisiana.  Act 3 seeks to bring together these programs under one department, the Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and align and raise standards across all funding streams. 

 

The Act declares that it “is the intent of the legislature that a comprehensive and integrated delivery system for early childhood care and education be created to ensure that every child enters kindergarten healthy and ready to learn,” and mandates that BESE create “a comprehensive and integrated network through which to manage and oversee all programs funded through state or federal resources that provide early childhood care and educational services.”

 

Act 3 provides that to facilitate the creation of this network, BESE shall:
  1. Establish a definition of kindergarten readiness

  2. Establish performance targets and academic standards for kindergarten readiness to be used in publicly-funded early childhood education programs.

  3. Create a uniform assessment and accountability system for publicly funded early childhood education programs that includes a letter grade indicative of student performance.

  4. Coordinate with the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Health and Hospitals to align the standards.

  5. Establish a timeline for the creation and implementation of the early childhood care and education network that shall be fully implemented by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.

 

What Act 3 Did NOT Do

The greatest flaw in the policies behind Act 3 is that though the law mandates raising standards and accountability for all early care and education programs, it does not call for any increase in funding, and it does not address the current disparity in public funding across the programs, none of which are funded at the cost to provide the services required. This is especially true for the Child Care Assistance Program. The fear is that without addressing these funding issues, Act 3 will set up the Child Care Assistance Program, one of the only programs for children under age four, to fail, and worse, will push more of the state’s most vulnerable children under age four into lower quality and possibly unregulated settings.

 

Act 3 Implementation

The implementation of Act 3 has included:

  • Development of Louisiana’s Birth to Five Early Learning & Development Standards

  • Adoption of two national assessments to be used by Louisiana’s publicly funded early childhood programs: CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring System) and Teaching Strategies GOLD 

  • Implementation of these assessments through local pilots that now are local Lead Agencies of local networks. The lead agencies must also seek to identify all at-risk infant to age five children in the community attending or in need of publicly funded care and education services, implement the CLASS assessment and work towards a common enrollment process for all programs.  For more information on the work of the Lead Agencies, click here. For more information on Common Enrollment click here and also see Act 717 of the 2014 Louisiana Legislative Session.

  • Redefinition of licensure of child care centers in Louisiana from two classes (Class A and Class B) to three types (Type I, II and III, providing a new level for all licensed programs receiving either Head Start/Early Head Start or Child Care Assistance funding and requiring these programs to participate in the new rating system) and moving the licensure function from the Department of Children and Family Services to the Department of Education, effective October 1, 2014. See Act 868 of the 2014 Louisiana Legislative Session.

  • Moving the Child Care Development Fund Block Grant ($82 million of federal funds that supports the Child Care Assistance Program, Quality Start and its supports and other initiatives and staff) from the Department of Children and Family Services to the Department of Education, which was completed in July 2015. See Act 868 of the 2014 Louisiana Legislative Session.

  • Creation of an Ancillary Teaching Certification and requiring all lead teachers in publicly funded child care classrooms obtain that certification by 2019.