State seeks applications for Early Childhood Networks pilot program

State Education Superintendent John White invited parishes Monday to apply for monetary awards aimed at improving early childhood programs.

The awards range from $80,000 to $350,000, depending on the parish’s size. The spending is part of the state’s efforts to revamp the education that children receive before entering kindergarten.

Critics contend the pre-K system is fractured with uneven quality, access and standards. Pilot programs are taking parishes through training and other tools ahead of sweeping changes taking effect statewide for the 2015-16 school year.

So far, 15 parishes have participated, including sites in Ascension, Orleans, St. Tammany and West Baton Rouge parishes. White said Monday that he is ready for a second round of the pilot program.

“We are thrilled with results of the pilot to date. They have shown us in multiple areas both the tremendous opportunity ... as well as some of the challenges,” White said during a telephone call with reporters.

The state hopes to increase children’s command of the alphabet and numbers through a more coordinated system. The changes include bringing Head Start, child care and pre-K programs receiving state or federal funding into a unified network overseen by state education officials.

Teachers will get professional development. Steps will be taken to make it easier for families to find pre-K classes. Funding will be based on performance.