Louisiana is currently serving 30.9 percent of 4-year-olds with state-funded pre-K. In addition, approximately 2,374 children under the age of three in the state are enrolled in Early Head Start. Additionally, the average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $5,574. As part of the state’s efforts to reach more children during early childhood the Department of Health and Hospital’s Office of Public Health, the Bureau of Family Health and the Southeast Louisiana Area Health Education Center are partnering together to bring Parents As Teachers (PAT), a home visiting program, to the northern part of the state. This program will complement the Bureau of Family Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) home visiting program, which has been operating statewide for approximately 15 years.
- What state leaders are saying: In the U.S Senate, John White, the Superintendent of Louisiana’s Department of Education, testified before the U.S. Senate’s HELP Committee during a recent hearing entitled “Supporting Children and Families through Investments in High-Quality Early Education.” During his testimony, Superintendent White shared that “early education can be life changing for low-income children when it is done well, and when quality is sustained in the grades that follow.”
- What’s happening in the legislature: At the state level, there have been several pieces of legislation attempting to improve the access, funding and quality of early childhood education programs. The House Committee on Education passed a bill concerning the Cecil J. Picard LA 4 Early Childhood Education Program, or House Bill 954. Sponsored by Rep. Walt Leger, the bill includes diverse delivery language with the final statute requiring that in the event that there is an increase in funding, 10 percent of the increase would have to be spent to provide slots in non-school sites and community-based learning settings. Reps. Walt Leger and Edward Price introduced HCR 61, which requests that the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education develop an equitable statewide model for the distribution of public funds to support quality early childhood care and education for children birth to age 5. House Bill 249, which would provide child care assistance to homeless families, has been approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee and moves to the House floor for consideration. In July 2014, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed SB 524, which will create a Child Care and Early Education Advisory Council that will serve as advisory council to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In order to better serve families seeking early childhood services, a new law was passed in September that will require all child care centers, Head Start providers and pre-K programs across the state to coordinate enrollment efforts by fall of 2015.
- Funding increases and additional support: In general, Louisiana’s early education reform efforts are promising, but face some funding hurdles. The state plans to establish early learning performance guidelines for children under age 3 and academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds, but has not proposed additional funding to assist programs to meet the new guidelines. The Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families Policy Director Melanie Bronfin has called for renewed investment in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.