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Webster schools face challenges in unifying education network

by Minden Press-Herald

Webster Parish is now one of the remaining 36 school systems to apply for program funding that unifies school districts for the early childhood network.

So what does this mean?

Webster Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dan Rawls says it is part of a network mandated by the Louisiana Department of Education to help fund early childhood learning programs, which include daycares and Head Start programs.

“(We’re) going to be working with other people,” he said. “We’re going to be working with Head Start; we’re going to be working with Claiborne (Parish); we’re going to be working with Webster, church daycares and other early childhood learning agencies.”

In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature passed into law Act 3, which requires “the creation of a unified network for early childhood care that would establish a common expectation for excellence among all publicly funded service providers, along with accountability for results,” says LDOE.

There are three cohorts in which LDOE created these network pilots. Cohort 1 and 2 are comprised of single entities like Webster Parish, Rawls said. Cohort 3 is a multi-agency agreement. For instance, the Department of Children and Family Services signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Education in which they developed strategies alongside the Department of Health and Hospitals, BrightStart Early Childhood Advisory Council, Nonpublic School Commission, Head Start and the Child Care Association of Louisiana.

The three cohorts are a result of Act 3 and is a multi-year strategy to unify all early education programs to make sure children are ready for kindergarten and up. Rawls says Webster Parish already has its own early childhood education program that was approved by the state several years ago, but now the state is adding all these other education programs to the school systems.

“We were just fine, but when the state decided to start adding all these other education programs down to daycare levels, somebody had to pick them up,” he said. “Everybody would still be right where they are; the only change will be Webster Parish will be in charge of the educational component – the training, the curriculum, that type of thing. We’re also going to be required to be the licensing agent for these people.”

One such program is Head Start. Rawls said the assumption is Head Start falls under the umbrella of Webster Parish schools, but that’s not the case. Head Start is funded by the Webster Parish Police Jury; however, Webster Parish schools will be heading up the educational component. The police jury, he said, will continue to fund Head Start, but the school system will pick up training the staff, providing the curriculum and other mandates.

State Rep. Gene Reynolds said the funding for this unification will come from the state. Generally, funding for these types of programs comes from what he called 8(g) monies, which is “doled out to some of the local school systems and you have to dole it out to these pre-K care providers,” he said.

LDOE refers to it as Louisiana’s Quality Education Support Fund, frequently referred to as 8(g), which “is the result of a 1953 federal settlement with several states over offshore drilling and development. The ‘8(g)’ comes from the name of a 1986 amendment to the settlement, which gives Louisiana 27 percent of the money from such development. That same year, Louisiana citizens voted to use the money as a trust fund for education.”

“That’s what’s been used up to this point,” Reynolds continued. “Having said that, there may be some interest in including some (Minimum Foundation Program) money in that, and two, there is a federal initiative to include some money in there.”

Rawls said he felt like it is an unfunded mandate. While the state is providing some of the funds, it is not providing enough. And, he said, none of the money to fund this will come from MFP. MFP is based on a per pupil basis and goes to pay teacher and staff salaries and benefits.

“What they’ll do is give you start up funds to get you started and then in a year or two, the funding quits,” Rawls said. “Then you’re supposed to keep it working.”

State Superintendent John White says the whole point of Act 3 is to keep young children from slipping through the cracks.

“Only 54 percent of our children enter kindergarten equipped with fundamental skills they need to thrive in school,” he said. “By bringing all communities into the network pilot ahead of schedule, we can put our entire focus on ensuring quality and equity for all families in Louisiana.”

This initiative began in 2012, when legislators and the education leaders saw a need to raise the standards of early childhood learning centers. The network includes all daycares that provide early childhood learning. These include publicly funded daycares, some church daycares and others.

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