Calcasieu Parish was recently awarded a grant to begin a pilot program aimed at increasing access to and improving the quality of public-funded early childhood care and education. The parish is joining 13 other statewide educational entities in the Ready Start Network in an attempt to identify local strategies and funding streams to best meet the needs of all birth through five year old learners, regardless of income.
The Calcasieu Parish School Board was awarded the $100,000 grant, Michelle Joubert, director of early childhood, said, but the district will be working with the Lake Charles Charter Schools, local childcare providers, Head Start, McNeese State University, Sowela Technical Community College, Unitech Training Academy and other local businesses to implement the two-year collaboration.
"This is an opportunity for everyone in Calasieu Parish, plus local stakeholders, to come together and kind of determine what early childhood should look like for our students," said Joubert.
John White, Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent, said in a news release that Louisiana has made tremendous strides in its improvement of early childhood as noted by the state's number eight ranking in quality by the Bipartisan Policy Center. "However, our system is not funded to serve the thousands of children and working families in need. We are proud of our local leaders for stepping up to further expand access to quality care and learning."
The implementation of a local Ready Start Network, will allow education leaders and stakeholders an opportunity to create personalized solutions to strengthen Calcasieu's early childhood weakness, Joubert said. During the course of the two-year grant periods, the network will develop new local governance structures, assess local demand for early care and education, provide resources and training to improve classroom quality, implement fund raising strategies and share their finding with state leaders to inform future policy making.
By taking on such responsibilities, Joubert said, "We can really come up with and define what our community needs are and where areas of improvement or opportunities are. We will look for ways to make changes that are in the best interest of all birth to five learners."
A large responsibility of Ready Start Networks is to identify local funding sources to expand early childhood education to families who do not traditionally meet the income constraints to qualify for Child Care Assistance Program, Head Start or Pre-K. "Funding wise, currently we only have publicly funded students. They have to meet the eligibility criteria in order for them to be in our early childhood program. What we're trying to do is look at various ways and funding sources in our community so we can find additional ways to fund children who don't meet the criteria."