There were large turnouts of child care providers and advocates for children at unveilings in Baton Rouge and New Orleans of a new state initiative in early childhood education.
That interest is warranted, because giving Louisiana’s next generations a healthier start in education is a major undertaking.
The initiative also includes an awful lot of moving parts, from private day care providers and Head Start centers to prekindergarten classrooms operated by traditional schools.
For just about everyone who is involved with children and education, the laudable goals of the initiative backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration are popular. But funding — and coordinating the fragmented pattern of today’s system — remain challenging.
One big problem: Nearly half of children who enter kindergarten require intensive literacy assistance.
The lack of knowledge of letters and numbers, as well as the social adaptability to deal with their new environment, mean that far too many of Louisiana’s kids aren’t ready to learn.
The Jindal initiative seeks to advance on several fronts, including making sure that the littlest students have affordable options available and that the quality of pre-K instruction is improved. Among the many significant ambitions in the plan is better coordination of offerings in every city and parish, and a gradual raising of the bar for the qualifications of teachers.
State agencies, including Superintendent John White’s Department of Education, report progress in several pilot projects around the state since the 2012 adoption of the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Act.
We commend those involved, and encourage local agencies and child care providers to participate and make the initiative work. Yet we also agree that the funding for this sort of general overhaul will be difficult to come by. Louisiana’s budget is a mess, facing a projected $1.2 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year.
Nor are requirements for degreed teachers or other goals of the program cheap for the payrolls of providers, public or private. “We know we can’t make the leap if we don’t invest in it,” White said. “We haven’t invested in a while, and we are making increased demands on the centers.”
Those demands are considerable, and Louisiana has a large number of households with parents working one or two minimum-wage jobs. The kind of quality Jindal and other backers of the initiative seek won’t come without costs up and down the line.
The payoff should be substantial, though, and that should be kept in mind as each step forward is evaluated.