White visits, seeking input from educators
LAFAYETTE — The state should target high turnover rates among child care workers, improve parent outreach and track more at-risk preschoolers as it works to improve publicly funded early childhood education, Lafayette-area educators told state Superintendent of Education John White on Thursday.
The Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act, which was passed in 2012, requires the state to create a coordinated early childhood care and education network with uniform standards and an accountability system for child care providers receiving public funding.
More than a dozen school districts in Louisiana, including the Lafayette Parish School System, have received state grants to help test the network and focus on strategies specific to their needs.
The state legislation is aimed at eliminating the current fragmented system within the state.
White met Thursday with early childhood educators at Truman Early Childhood Education Center, Lafayette Parish School System’s preschool-only campus, for feedback on the pilot’s progress in Lafayette Parish.
“One of the challenges is the turnover of teachers,” daycare worker Tammi Reynaud told White.
“You’re looking at a different sector than what you’re looking at for Head Start or (public school) preschool. We started a (training) class and two left in the last week. They move. That’s a huge challenge.”
Educational requirements for those working with preschool children vary, depending on the type of preschool.
“In the private sector, you’re working with a high school graduates who love kids, but the turnover is high,” Reynaud said after the session with White. “How are we going to be able to retain them?”
Low pay, a contributing factor to the turnover rate, is an issue the Lafayette Parish network could address by leveraging private donations, said Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Not enough people are aware of the Louisiana School Readiness Tax Credit program, which provides a matching tax credit for donations of up to $5,000 in support of improving public education, Cooper said.
Improving the quality of early childhood education, whether it’s in a child’s home, a private daycare or public preschool classroom, isn’t just a job for a local school system, Cooper said. Preparing students for school is just as important as economic development, he said.
White encouraged the Lafayette network pilot group to pursue the tax credit initiative and to devise a funding strategy to help child care centers reduce turnover rates.
White said one major issue is that districts don’t know how many 3- and 4-year-olds are in their parishes — a number needed to pinpoint funding needs.
The Lafayette Parish School System now gathers data on where students entering its preschool or kindergarten classes received child care services — either a private provider, Head Start or in the home. The district uses the data to pinpoint skill areas children struggled with and to help day care centers develop curricula to target those areas, said Christine Duay, Lafayette Parish Schools early childhood supervisor.
Educators also pushed for more parent education and suggested the state consider a public service campaign reminding parents that learning starts before kindergarten.
White said parents are likely to be more empowered to get involved if those messages or campaigns are generated locally.
What works in one community may not work in another, he said.
That’s the idea behind the network initiative: different parishes trying different strategies to unify their early childhood initiatives.
“We’re implementing it on a small scale to show that there are different ways to do it,” Duay said.