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Louisiana Takes Big Steps to Improve Early-Childhood Education

Louisiana preschoolers should have a better chance of being ready for kindergarten now that the state is taking major steps to improve early-childhood education.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Tuesday signed legislation that requires the state education board to create an early-childhood-education-and-care network that would be governed by performance standards for kindergarten readiness. That network must be created by July 2013 and fully implemented by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, according to the legislation.

The measure was one of three education reform bills approved by lawmakers this week. The others will create a school choice system and a performance-based reward system for teachers.

"We have a moral imperative to improve the education system for our children, our state and our country, and these new laws will be a game-changer for Louisiana," Jindal said in a press release.

The proposed "seamless early-childhood education system" would replace the "fragmented system of standards, funding and oversight" that has served as "a barrier to providing every child with the high-quality services and programs which he deserves and to providing parents with the information needed to make an informed choice when selecting the programs that best fit the needs of their children," the legislation said.

Under the new law. the state board must also:

  • Create a definition of kindergarten readiness and establish performance targets for kids under age 3 and academic standards for kindergarten readiness for 3- and 4-year-olds;
  • Create an assessment and accountability system for programs with letter grades for performance; and
  • Coordinate with health and social service departments to align state licensing standards for day-care facilities with those created for early-childhood education.

In 2011, Louisiana spent about $94.6 million on preschool programs, or about $4,700 per enrolled child, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. About 47 percent of Louisiana's 4-year-olds are enrolled in one of three state-funded preschool programs or federal Head Start programs.

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