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New Orleans, Jefferson among parishes getting more money for early childhood education

New Orleans, Jefferson among parishes getting more money for early childhood education
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Early learning centers in Orleans Parish will receive extra federal funding to improve teaching quality after the Louisiana Department of Education awarded $1.5 million to eight communities this week, according to state officials.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Wednesday (March 13) allocated the grant funding to support early childhood education in Calcasieu, Concordia, Iberville, Jefferson, Orleans, Rapides, St. John the Baptist, and Tangipahoa parishes, according to a news release. The money will provide “evidence-based coaching” to teachers at low-performing sites, according to a document from the education department. 

The money for Orleans will be distributed to Agenda for Children, which oversees the New Orleans Early Care and Education Network that is made up of every prekindergarten program for public schools and some private schools. The nonprofit advocacy and service organization also caters to Head Start programs, 40 child care centers that accept Child Care Assistance, and the Early Steps program. The organization is set to receive an additional $470,000.

Another $308,000 is set to go to Jefferson Parish Schools, $87,500 is allocated to St. John Parish Schools, and $47,000 is designated for Tangipahoa Parish Schools.

The funding follows the release last year of the state’s first ever online database to provide information about publicly funded early childhood centers. The state says the database was launched to provide more accountability at schools and to help parents find the right school for their children. 

Education Department evaluators observe teacher-child interactions at childhood centers to rate them on a 1 to 7 point scale, with the best centers deemed “excellent” while the lowest receive “unsatisfactory” ratings. Officials stated classrooms with high-quality teacher-child interactions are supportive, organized, and promote children’s learning and development. For instance, teachers must be responsive and sensitive to children to help them develop their ability to interact with others.  

Officials also measure how a classroom is organized to manage children’s attention, time, and behavior. While the rankings for the metro area run the gamut, the data shows Orleans Parish is home to some of the lowest-performing networks. No early childhood centers earned an overall Excellent rating in Orleans Parish in 2017.

The allocations were issued based on the at-risk status of the community and the demonstrated need through unmet family demand, according to BESE documents. The funds are intended to improve the quality of 2,340 seats in the preschool programs in each community by providing services to families served in new seats. Officials expect more than 300 classrooms and 1,500 children across the state to benefit from this latest investment. 

The grant comes as a supplement to the U.S. Department of Education’s Preschool Development Grants competition, which supports the expansion of high-quality preschool programs in targeted communities. Louisiana secured a $32 million grant through the competition in 2014 that will last until December 2019.

The funding also follows findings from a report, titled “Child Care and National Security,” that stated 75 percent of all young adults in Louisiana between the ages of 17 and 24 do not qualify for military service, primarily because of educational shortcomings, obesity, and a record of crime or drug abuse. The study concluded the nation is at risk of having an even smaller recruiting pool in the future without improvements to the child care system.

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Wilborn P. Nobles III is an education reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at wnobles@nola.com or on Twitter at @WilNobles.

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