Early child education is almost universally supported by teachers, parents and family advocates. Unfortunately, across the United States, these early child programs are being targeted by funding cuts and other restrictions as states try to fix holes in their budgets. Often, this makes it increasingly difficult for low-income families to find and access the child care assistance they need to support their families and promote healthy growth. However, Louisiana is working to make it easier for these parents to find the early child care programs they need: the state’s Department of Education is creating a new rating system for day care providers, which they hope will spur improvements in the quality of child care in the region.
Currently, private day care centers in Louisiana are ranked with a total of five stars, but only a few day cares have reached even four of those stars. Soon, however, these day care centers will earn letter grades, following the lead of public schools, which began using a letter grade system in 2010. This is part of a shift in the state, which is seeking to improve public, private and pre-kindergarten centers by judging providers with the same common academic standards that schools are subjected to. As part of this change, participating facilities will be inspected twice a year to test their instructional methods, and all teachers will need a Child Development Associates credential by 2019. State experts say these new requirements are part of a change in the way child care is perceived: while early child care programs were previously seen as mere babysitting, they are now understood to be an opportunity for growth and learning.
This is an important shift in Louisiana, where half of all schoolchildren enter kindergarten with literacy levels low enough to be considered unprepared. For this reason, the new ranking and information system for private and public early child care programs will be operated primarily out of local schools: each institution is developing a coordinated enrollment process which will allow parents to consider the benefits and consequences of public and private centers.
However, the new program will likely affect some day cares more than others. Currently, more than 1,000 private facilities in the state, equal to around 60% of the licensed practices, accept subsidies from low-income families. To keep these subsidies, they will need to meet new requirements to help children successfully transfer to kindergarten. But advocates say that these day cares already start at a financial disadvantage: pre-kindergarten facilities receive almost twice the funding that goes to centers who receive payments from the Child Care Assistance Program, which pays an average of $1,800 per child a year. Meanwhile, these different centers are being graded on the same qualities. For this reason, some are calling for changes in funding as well. Unfortunately, the state’s financial status will likely limit this possibility.