The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved the allocation of more than $30 million to communities to fund 2,970 seats in child care for children birth through age 3 (B-3) for the 2021-2022 school year. Along with sustaining the 660 B-3 seats allocated last year, the move to kickstart LA B to 3 with federal funding includes the creation of 2,310 new B-3 seats. These seats are awarded to 22 Louisiana communities, all of which are Ready Start Networks. These networks are local community pilots tasked with improving access to quality early childhood care and education.
“I applaud our BESE members for this critical investment in our children and our state,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley. “These funds will remove the financial barrier that exists for thousands of Louisiana families and allow them to provide their children with high-quality early childhood care and education.”
This funding allows eligible families to receive tuition-free seats if they are at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level and working or attending school or actively seeking employment. Through a combination of Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and Preschool Development Birth through Five (PDG B-5) Renewal Grant funding, BESE awarded a total of $30,193,636 during its April meeting.
“It is critically important to expand access to quality early childhood learning throughout Louisiana,” said BESE President and Early Childhood Care and Education Commission member Sandy Holloway. “The allocation of these federal dollars will support the work of local Ready Start Networks to engage and serve more of our state’s youngest learners, boost child care options for families and make a significant impact for those in greatest need of assistance.”
Ready Start Networks will offer B-3 seats in partnership with Type III child care centers rated Proficient or higher and in classrooms with teachers who have or are on the path to earning the Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate (ECAC). This funding will also allow networks to support the quality of the classroom where the seats are located, through measures such as educator professional development or tier 1 curriculum and classroom material purchases.
“The Vermilion Parish Early Childhood Network is overjoyed to have been granted funding to support additional birth to 3-year-old seats for our community,” said Vermilion Parish School System Early Childhood Supervisor Lola Thomas. “This will provide families in areas across our parish who have few options for early care with the chance to access quality education and care for their children. “
This marks the second year of the B-3 seats pilot. In the 2020-2021 school year, the Department funded 660 seats in thirteen Ready Start Networks using PDG Renewal Grant funding. The recent CRRSA Act funding allows the pilot to nearly double the number of communities receiving seats in 2021-2022, quadrupling the total number of children served.
In Louisiana, even prior to the pandemic, fewer than 7 percent of in-need children birth to two years old, and less than 33 percent of three year olds have access to high-quality child care. The federal stimulus packages provide a bridge to 2024 and an opportunity to address these access challenges in the short-term. However, there must be state and local efforts to sustain these seats no later than 2024 to meaningfully expand access to high-quality early care and education options for families in every parish in the state in the long-term. As part of that work, Ready Start Networks will create funding and sustainability plans to help ensure the tenability of these seats beyond the timeframe of the grant.
Participating Ready Start Networks in year two of the B-3 seats pilot program are Caddo Parish Schools, Calcasieu Parish Schools, East Baton Rouge Parish School Systems, Iberville Parish Schools, Jefferson Parish Schools, Lafayette Parish School Systems, Lincoln Parish Schools, Delta Community Action Agency (lead agency for Madison Parish), Children’s Coalition for Northeast Louisiana (lead agency for Morehouse and Richland Parishes), Natchitoches Parish School Board, Agenda for Children (lead agency for Orleans Parish), Rapides Parish School Board, Sabine Parish Schools, St. Charles Parish Public Schools, St. Landry Parish School Board, St. Mary Community Action Agency, Inc., Tangipahoa Parish School System, Vermillion Parish School District, Washington Parish School System, Webster Parish School Board and West Baton Rouge Parish School Board.