Increased Demand for Early Childhood Seats Signals Need for Increased Funding
The Department of Education announced funding awards for statewide Early Childhood Pre-Kindergarten programs that benefit low-income four-year-olds. More than $81.6 million will fund 17,851 children served through the Cecil J. Picard LA4 Early Childhood Program and the Nonpublic Schools Early Childhood Development program (NSECD). This year, 1,850 families seeking pre-kindergarten slots were unable to obtain LA4 or NSECD admission because of a shortage of seats in these programs. Overall, 3,150 Louisiana four-year-old children are at risk of not being served by any early childhood program, including pre-kindergarten, Head Start or child care, because of an inadequate number of seats.
“We must remain committed to the welfare of our greatest asset, our children,” said State Superintendent John White. “That commitment is dependent upon our assurance our at-risk children have access to these Early Childhood programs which will prepare them for the rigors and challenges of school. Without funding for these programs, these children are at risk of falling further behind.”
Today, only half of Louisiana children enter kindergarten ready to learn with basic number and letter recognition skills. Louisiana’s pre-kindergarten programs – LA4 and NSECD – provide disadvantaged four-year-olds six hours of early childhood education each day, and have been proven to enhance participants’ language and math skills. To provide families with choice, these programs are offered in public schools, state-approved private preschools and child care centers. These two programs are expected to serve 17,851 children across the state, at a rate of $4,580 per child.
Both programs are very popular with families. Communities indicate there are at least 1,850 families of at-risk four-year-olds who are seeking a spot in high-quality pre-K this fall, but there is not enough funding available. At the current rate, the state would need an additional $8.5 million to offer slots to these children this fall.
“The increase in cost and interest clearly demand a need for more funding,” said Superintendent White. “These children deserve the same educational opportunities given to every other child in Louisiana.”
In 2012, the legislature passed Act 3, requiring the creation of a unified network for early childhood care that would establish a common expectation for excellence among all publicly funded service providers, along with accountability for results. That same year, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved the state’s multi-year strategy to implement Act 3, the Early Childhood Care and Education Networks.
To help address family demand, the Department applied for the Preschool Development Expansion Grant in 2014 and will partner with local Early Childhood Networks to offer an additional 4,600 high-quality pre-K slots to families over the next four years, starting in 2016. Participating communities will coordinate enrollment to make it easier to apply and families will be able to choose between public, nonpublic school and child care settings.
Still the Department estimates there are an additional 3,150 low-income four-year-olds who qualify for child care, Head Start, or Pre-Kindergarten, but whose families may not be aware of what is available. As demonstrated in the recent Early Childhood Funding Model required by the Legislature, the Department estimates an additional $26 million investment is needed to provide a high-quality pre-K option to every at-risk family in Louisiana that wants one.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved the Department’s LA4 and NSECD allocation recommendations.