BESE seeks $86 million for early childhood, funding could benefit Rapides

Published: Mar. 13, 2019 at 6:05 PM CDT
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Wednesday the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asked Governor John Bel Edwards to provide $86 million for early childhood education.

The Advocate reports this comes after BESE agreed to back the governor's $3.85 billion proposal in public school spending, which includes $1,000 pay raises for teachers.

Last month State Superintendent John White said the proposed budget's 'most glaring failing' was the lack of funding to address the long childcare assistance program waitlist.

Here in Rapides Parish it's Early Childhood Registration Week. We got an inside look at classroom resources and talked to the Department of Education's early childhood team about where funding is needed.

"We enroll infants as young as four weeks and we go up to 12 years old," said Munckinland Director Jamie Martin.

The center is under the Rapides Early Childhood Network after the state created community networks in 2012. Rapides Coordinator Cindy Rushing said it puts early childhood services under a statewide system.

"Make sure everyone has that quality experience from birth to five years old," Rushing said. "So that when they enter kindergarten they are ready for the skills being introduced to them."

Public preschools are included.

"They get the big school experience," said J.B. Nachman Preschool Inclusion Teacher Shelley Hislop. "Walking to the cafeteria, walking to the music, walking to the library, things like that."

J.B. Nachman Elementary houses pre-k. This year D.F. Huddle and Acadian became pre-k and kindergarten only learning centers.

"For students, the plus is that they get to collaborate with their peers that are all their same level," said Huddle Principal Tonya Normand. "So, they don't have a lot of older students that are over them."

Teachers said the care is a vital part of growth for infants up to five-year-olds, but outside of public school services are not cheap.

"For our early learning centers, we do have what is called CCAP, which is the childcare assistance program," Rushing said. "It helps defray the cost of childcare."

But, according to the Advocate more than 3,000 Louisiana families are on the CCAP wait list.

"We can not serve all of the children whose families are requesting placement," said the Department of Education's Director of Network Engagement Kaye Eichler.

Last year the state created an Early Childhood Education Commission that recently reported they needed to expand services to more than 100,000 infants to three-year-olds.

"A means to support and increase access to our families who need childcare," Eichler said. "To enter the economy, to get jobs, to work and to improve themselves and their lives."

Eichler said they would love to see the governor's budget include early childhood.

"We are just hopeful for additional support in the future," Eichler said.

Rushing said their work isn't just about the ABC's, but the whole child.

"The earlier you start with children, the better the return of the investment," Rushing said. "So, if you wait until they get into middle school and high school, sometimes it is too late."

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