Pilot program has begun

The push to overhaul Louisiana’s prekindergarten classes has begun in 15 test parishes, including West Baton Rouge, Ascension and St. Tammany.

The aim is to implement changes during the 2013-14 school year, do a statewide trial run in 2014-15 and then put in place all the changes for the 2015-16 school year.

“We believe strongly that early childhood is the key,” David Corona, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, said Wednesday.

The 15 pilot projects stem from a 2012 state law aimed at correcting what critics call an early childhood system plagued by uneven quality, access and standards.

State officials are supposed to spell out early learning performance guidelines for those up to age 3 and academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds.

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

The parish meetings, which took place in the past three weeks, “are an important step toward making sure that no child falls through the cracks because of a disconnected system,” state Superintendent of Education John White said in a prepared statement.

The changes apply to early childhood education programs serving children from birth to age 5 that receive state or federal dollars.

It applies to LA4, Head Start, Early Head Start and Early Steps, among others.

State officials say 54 percent of children in Louisiana enter kindergarten ready to learn. The goal is 70 percent.

Other parishes taking part in the pilot projects include Orleans, Iberville and Pointe Coupee.