Louisiana to begin overhaul of early education

Louisiana to begin overhaul of early education

(La.) Proposed changes to Louisiana’s licensing rules for childcare and centers that administrate Head Start programs aim to ensure that more children will enter kindergarten healthy and prepared to learn.

Increased safety standards, such as more intensive background checks, and added flexibility in professional development options are among the changes being considered by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“It is critical that we prepare our children for the classroom as early as possible, and that means ensuring our children enter kindergarten ready to learn,” state superintendent John White said in a statement. “The proposed regulations also ensure that our preschool children are cared for and taught by qualified, competent, and trustworthy individuals while maintaining health and safety requirements.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, approximately 58 percent of children enter kindergarten unprepared. Children who start school behind – those who can’t count or recognize letters for example – often continue to fall behind.

The changes come following a package of legislation meant to make it easier for parents and providers to navigate the early childhood system. The reforms implement Act 3 of the 2012 Legislative session, which requires a uniform assessment and accountability system for publicly funded programs, a standard for Kindergarten readiness, and performance targets aligned to the state's K-12 standards by 2015-16.

Specifically, the proposed changes to the licensing requirements follow passage of SB 222, which created a new tier of licensure for providers. However, providers holding this new “Type 3” license will still have to meet the standards set by the Tiered Kindergarten Readiness Improvement System.

Under the proposed increase in safety standards, all new employees and volunteers would need to complete a more thorough, fingerprint-based criminal background check; staff will be required to participate in pediatric first aid and medication-administration training, and adults must be present during water activities.

The new regulations would also require that preschool and daycare centers post their licenses, as well as daily schedules that show times for learning activities, physical activity and rest periods. Parents are also given more flexibility to bring food for their child or ask for adjustments that best meet their child’s dietary needs.

For directors of early learning centers, one highlight of the proposal could mean less paperwork, as they would no longer have to seek state approval for the 12 training hours required every year for staff. Instead, professional development requirements could be met by choosing a trainer or program to meet the needs of that specific staff.

There has been a national push in expanded opportunities for early education, with states including Maryland, Michigan, Alabama, New York, South Carolina and Texas all receiving increased funding for these programs. The Obama administration has also embraced the goal, providing funding for new initiatives through the Race to the Top grant.

Research shows students who receive high-quality early learning opportunities tend to be better prepared for primary grades, have better socialization skills and in some cases, show higher reading achievement through seventh grade.

In addition, awards will be announced this month for two national grant competitions which promote high-quality early education programs. The first offers states $80 million to develop early-childhood education programs. The second, worth $160 million, will be awarded to states looking to expand their programs.