The Ascension and West Baton Rouge school systems are more than a year ahead of schedule in offering coordinated services as part of Louisiana’s pre-kindergarten overhaul, state officials said Tuesday.
The changes stem from a 2012 state law to repair a pre-K system marked by uneven quality, standards and availability, and a 2014 measure that spelled out four steps parishes have to take by October 2015.
Both the Ascension and West Baton Rouge school districts have finished all four requirements, including information campaigns to ensure that families with children from birth to age 5 know their options and applications that offer one-stop shopping for pre-K classes.
Districts also have to ensure that families have other, publicly funded options if their first choice is unavailable and a system aimed at matching families with their first, second or third choices.
“For the first time I feel like we have been able to identify all the students who need services that they are eligible for based on income,” said Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the Ascension Parish School District.
Crystal Leon, early childhood director for the West Baton Rouge Parish school system, made a similar point.
“What we are doing for the first time is we are truly coordinating our efforts from birth to age 5 so that parents have high quality choices and know what is available,” Leon said.
The 2012 law that put the changes in motion is called the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act, which was part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education overhaul.
The measure requires the state to set up an early childhood education network that encompasses child care, Head Start, pre-K classes in public schools and private schools that get public funds for pre-K classes.
The state will establish early-learning performance guidelines for children from infants to age 3 and academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds.
About 150,000 at-risk children are not getting publicly funded child care or education services.
The Ascension and West Baton Rouge school systems were among 13 groups in 15 parishes that launched pilot projects last year.
More than half the state is not coordinating pre-K services or has taken minimal steps, according to the state Department of Education.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is authorized to step in by June 2015 for parishes that do not offer coordinated pre-K services.
The state’s new pre-K system is supposed to be in operation for the 2015-16 school year.
Pujol said meeting the new state rules quickly made sense because, while her district is above the state average in many areas, that is not the case with kindergarten readiness.
“It was an opportunity,” she said.
Only about 54 percent of children in Louisiana enter kindergarten able to recognize 26 letters and count to 20.
Leon said her district’s system allow parents to visit a single website, see which programs are available and make decisions based on what the schools offer, class times or finances.
She said parents can access the website — www.wbrearlylearning.com — through iPads, iPhones, laptops and desktop computers.
The Ascension website is www.ascensionearlychildhood.org.
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