Governor Jindal announces plan to reform early childhood education

Friday, March 29, 2013 - 9:30pm

Governor Bobby Jindal announced his plan to implement early childhood education reforms, which he will pursue during the upcoming legislative session. The package of legislation will reduce red tape within the current early childhood system and make it easier to navigate for parents and providers, allowing more of Louisiana’s children to be better prepared for success in school.

The plan implements Act 3 of the 2012 Legislative session, which calls for a definition of Kindergarten readiness, performance targets aligned to the state’s K-12 standards, and a uniform assessment and accountability system for publicly funded programs, including letter grades to provide clear actionable information for parents. The law also requires coordination between the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Louisiana Department of Education to streamline and align with the new system licensing standards for child day care centers, as well as a revamp of the current tiered rating system and associated School Readiness Tax Credits to be aligned with the new system. Act 3 requires that this new system be created by July 1, 2013 and implemented by 2015-16.

Governor Jindal said, “This plan will implement the new early education standards that we passed last session by expanding access to high quality early childhood programs for families across Louisiana. It will also provide the information parents need to choose the program that will best prepare their children for success in school.

“Our current system isn’t working – it’s confusing to parents and burdensome for providers. Rather than throw more taxpayer dollars at programs that have no clear structure and too much red tape, we are going to streamline the governance of our early childhood programs. This legislation will align the standards and regulations governing those programs, and more effectively use the resources we already invest in them so we can be more efficient, and provide quality early education for Louisiana’s children.”

Currently, Louisiana offers a confusing maze of early education programs that are hard to understand for providers and parents. The system includes a variety of full-time and part-time early childhood education and health programs that focus on regulations and inputs, making it burdensome for early childhood providers to navigate. This unorganized system receives over $1 billion in state and federal funds, including $350 million for education programs, yet it is an inefficient model for helping parents and their children understand early education options, so these dollars are not being used to their full potential. An additional $150 million is allocated annually to the federally funded Head Start program. Furthermore , there is currently no measure of quality that gives parents actionable information, such as a letter grade, on which to make a decision about where to send their child.

Governor Jindal said the proposed legislation will address these problems and strengthen Louisiana’s early childhood system in three ways:

First, the plan will create the Early Childhood Care and Education Network.

Act 3 called on BESE to create an Early Childhood Network. This legislation fulfills that mandate and will transition the current quality rating system to the Tiered Kindergarten Readiness Improvement System (TKRIS), which will be administered by BESE and focused on the new Kindergarten Readiness standards. It will require that all early childhood program providers that receive public funds (other than food and nutrition money) participate in this system.

Additionally, the network will include a streamlined and centralized enrolment system to provide better access for parents and providers. It will distribute dollars based on program performance, supply, demand, and community needs, and will authorize sharing of data between state agencies to remove barriers for families to access programs. This legislation will be authored by Senator Conrad Appel.

Second, these proposals will maintain incentives currently offered to quality providers and staff through the Governor’s tax reform proposals.

The proposed system will continue to incent early childhood providers and staff to make quality improvements by transitioning the School Readiness Tax Credit to a rebate based on the new Kindergarten Readiness standards. The plan will also create a phased-in implementation plan that preserves the current structure until the TKRIS is implemented in 2015-16. This means that providers and staff who have made recent improvements as part of the Quality Rating System will continue to receive these critical supports until the new system is in place. By transitioning to a rebate, the legislation will align with the other changes proposed in the Governor’s tax reform package, such as repealing the personal and corporate income tax against which this credit is granted today.

Third, the plan will streamline licensing requirements for Early Childhood Network providers.

This legislation will streamline licensing requirements by creating a new “Type 3” license for Early Childhood Network providers; all Network providers must be enrolled in the TKRIS. This new tier of licensure would monitor a shorter list of regulations, focusing on health and safety rules and recognizing that the TKRIS will hold providers to a higher standard of quality separately from the licensing system. Providers must meet the standards of the TKRIS to maintain this type of license. This legislation will be authored by Senator Mike Walsworth.

The proposed legislation will also transition the remaining childcare licensing classes to a numerical system based on “type” or to an “authorization certificate” to alleviate confusion with the TKRIS letter grades.

• Child day care centers that are currently licensed under Class A but do not wish to participate in the Network can decline public funds and transition to a “Type 1” license that will preserve the same level of review that exists today under a Class A license.
• To further alleviate confusion, current Class B licensed centers will transition to an “Authorization Certificate” that will be the same level of review required for Class B today.
• Finally, specialized providers such as maternity homes will be separated out as “Type 2” providers.

As a result of this legislation, current providers that do not participate in the Network will have licensing regulations that are equivalent to their current regulations. However, providers that do participate will see their licensing burden eased to complement the outcomes-based TKRIS.

“Only half of Louisiana’s children enter kindergarten ready to learn. We can change this situation if we have high standards for our earliest learners, clear information for parents, and support for teachers,” said Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent John White.

Senator Conrad Appel said, “This plan is a win-win for parents, students and early education teachers. These reforms will help our children be better prepared for school, while keeping parents more informed and providing teachers the support they need to succeed.”

Senator Mike Walsworth, “This proposal is a game changer for our state. This legislation will ensure quality programs for our children. Early education reform truly can change Louisiana.”

Chas Roemer said, “I applaud Governor Jindal for initiating this legislation to improve early education in Louisiana. Higher standards for our children will help them get better prepared for kindergarten, and will give them more opportunity to excel.”

Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning Executive Director Billy Stokes said, "This legislation encourages collaboration and raises standards for early childhood education and will go a long way in helping our children. It will be a long process, but this legislation is a great step in the right direction. The research done by the Picard Center in collaboration with the Department of Education over the last decade supports the need for legislation like this.”

"We know that high quality early care and education opportunities are critical, particularly for Louisiana's at-risk children" said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. “Through these collaborative efforts we will see improved outcomes and ensure our youngest children have the tools need to succeed in school."  

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