Louisiana Early Childhood Basics


Louisiana's Early Care and Education Programs

There are a large number of early care and education programs in Louisiana for children ages birth through four, and many of them are of high quality. In fact, Louisiana has led the way nationally with our large, full-day, high quality Pre-K programs.   


However, we have a long way to go:


Nearly all of the publicly funded programs are for 4 year olds

  • Although Louisiana is serving 93% of our at-risk 4 year olds through publicly funded Pre-K, it is serving 15% of the at-risk children birth through age three.  Yet:

    • 61% of Louisiana mothers with infants are in the labor force.

    • 67% of children birth through age five have both parents, or their single parent, working outside the home. ​

    • A year of child care in Louisiana costs almost as much as the annual tuition for a public university. 

  • In addition, even for the 4 year old Pre-K programs, parental choice is extremely limited.  Less than 1% of the state’s publicly funded Pre-L programs are in mixed delivery settings, a best practice across the country. 

  • Louisiana currently spends less than 1/2 of 1% of our state general funds on early care and education for children birth through age four. 

The publicly funded early care and education programs in Louisiana are as follows:


Cecil J. Picard LA 4 Early Childhood Program (LA4) (4-year-olds)

The LA 4 Program is the primary pre-k program in the state, a high quality, full day program serving more than 16,000 children at no cost to the families. Created by State Law, Louisiana Revised Statute 407.27 it provides a full school day of early childhood education during the school year to four-year-olds from low-income families. 


The program is rated 8 out of 10 by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) for its many high quality attributes (including requirements for a certified teacher, low teacher to child ratios, maximum group size etc.). 


One concern about LA4, however, is this program is offered almost exclusively on school sites; by contrast, nationally one-third of public pre-k is offered through a diverse or mixed delivery system in community-based settings which is a best practice across the country.


8(G) Student Enhancement Block Grant Program (8(g) (4-year-olds)

The 8(g) Student Enhancement Block Grant Program provides free pre-k for roughly 3,000 at-risk 4 year olds. As part of the Louisiana Education Quality Support Fund administered by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the 8(g) grant program allocates funds to school districts that can be used for preschool programs statewide.


Nonpublic Schools Early Childhood Development Program (NSCED) (4-year-olds)

The Nonpublic Schools Early Childhood Development Program offers low-income 4 year olds the opportunity to attend state-approved private preschools and child care centers for free. The program serves around 1,400 children annually, providing six hours of daily instruction with certified teachers and low teacher-child ratios. 

Head Start and Early Head Start (Head Start-3 and 4-year-olds and Early Head Start-Birth through 2-year-olds)

Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) are federal programs that provide free, comprehensive early learning services to children under age 3 (EHS) and ages 3-4 (HS). In Louisiana there are about 18,000 children in HS, and 3300 children in EHS.  Services include early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services.  Federal policy defines eligibility as children in poverty, although 10 percent of the funds are to serve children with special needs regardless of their income. HS and EHS funds are granted directly from the federal Office of Head Start to public and private agencies at the local level, and therefore these programs are not administered by the state of Louisiana. However, all Head Start and Early Head Start programs must be licensed by the state as Type III Early Learning Centers and therefore, by law must participate in the state early care and education accountability and coordinate enrollment systems.  Louisiana grantees of HS and EHS include private non-profits, Total Community Action agencies, school districts, municipalities and other public and private local entities. 


Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) (Birth through Age 3)

The Child Care Assistance Program helps low-income families pay for child care while working or attending school or training.  The CCAP program is administered by the Department of Education in Louisiana.  Unlike all the other publicly funded programs, CCAP pays for percentage of the child care costs, and the low-income parent must make up the difference with a parent co-pay to reach the cost of the tuition charged by the center.


Parents can select a Type III child care center, school-based before and after school program, licensed child care center determined by the Department of Defense, registered Family Child Day Care Home, or In-Home provider active in the CCAP provider directory.


A Note on Child Care Centers

For parents seeking an early care and education program for their children under age four, the only publicly funded options are child care assistance, Head Start and Early Head Start. There are two types of child care “centers,” both of which are market-based small businesses:


1) Child Care Centers

Under Louisiana law, child care centers include those providing care for 7 or more children, not including those related to the caregiver, on a regular basis for at least 12 1/2 hours in a continuous 7-day week. These centers must be licensed by the state and comply with the child care licensing regulations. For more information on Louisiana's child care regulations, click here

2) “Small” Child Care Centers

Under Louisiana law, child care centers with 6 or fewer children are called Family Child Day Care Homes (FCDCH). In Louisiana these centers do NOT have to be licensed, and therefore are totally unregulated.  


Louisiana is one of only three states that does not license its "small" child care centers. 


If these small centers participate in the child care assistance program or the Child and Adult Care Food Program, they do have to meet certain minimum requirements for registration.


See also:

Roadmap to Success-Ensuring Children in Small Child Care Settings are Safe and Ready for Kindergarten, a report on Louisiana’s small child care settings by the Success by 6 Collaborative and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.  

The Louisiana Department of Education's website.