Pre-K overhaul pilots to expand

The state plans to expand, and possibly double, the number of pilot projects testing Louisiana’s overhaul of how 4-year-olds are educated, officials said Thursday.

State Superintendent of Education John White told a gathering of child care providers and others that the state plans to increase its pilot projects next spring to find out what practices are working, how they can be replicated and to identify centers of excellence. “Pilot, listen, and then we launch,” White said.

The revamp stems from a 2012 state law and is supposed to take effect statewide for the 2015-16 school year.

Thirteen groups in 15 parishes are currently testing the changes, including how to improve teaching and learning; how child care sites are rated; and how they are funded.

Sites in Ascension, Orleans, St. Tammany and West Baton Rouge parishes are among those participating.

The changes are aimed at repairing what critics call a fractured pre-K system with uneven quality, access and standards.

The new rules will include grades; funding based on performance; new steps to make it easier for families to find pre-K classes; and professional development for teachers.

They apply to early childhood education programs serving children from birth to age 5 that get state or federal funds.

However, the state’s push is mostly aimed at about 42,000 4-year-olds, mostly from impoverished backgrounds.

White frequently says that just 54 percent of children in Louisiana enter kindergarten able to recognize 26 letters and count to 20. “We have a system where too many people are falling through the cracks,” he told the group.

Report cards that rate child care providers will be issued on a trial basis for the 2015-16 school year.

Melanie Bronfin, director of the policy institute at the Louisiana Partnership for Children & Families, said her group’s concern is that the same standards will be applied to early childhood programs regardless of the funding they get.

Bronfin’s group said aid now ranges from $1,750 to $5,610 per child.

“It is very concerning,” she said.

John Warner Smith, chief executive officer of Education’s Next Horizon, said that, despite the best of intentions, some families cannot afford to even transport their children to and from pre-K classes.

Wyatt Graves, president of the Child Care Association of Louisiana, said while groups work well together in the early stages of revamping the system, friction is likely once funding and other changes are launched.