Child care advocates stumped on how La. will pay for early childhood education system

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Despite landing a $32 million federal grant this month, child care advocates say they are stumped on how Louisiana will pay for sweeping changes in its early childhood education system.

Jonathan Pearce, president of the Child Care Association of Louisiana, tells The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1zNHufD ) money is the biggest issue, and right now, there is no

The worries focus on a 2012 law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

It is supposed to replace a preschool setup that critics contend is plagued by inequities in funding and quality and is confusing to parents.

But the measure became law without any appropriation attached, and backers have spent months asking how the state can provide better-qualified teachers, serve more children and offer better oversight without additional dollars.

The issue surfaced again last week during a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education committees.

State Superintendent of Education John White, responding to questions, said four options are worth exploring.

He said they include raising private dollars and reallocating existing state resources.

White said local districts can also blend a wide range of state and federal aid to offer more seats to 4-year-old students from impoverished homes, which he said has been done well in the West Baton Rouge Parish and West Feliciana Parish school districts.

"Of course, the state has no money," White said in an interview a few days later.

State services face a $1.4 billion shortfall for the financial year that begins on July 1 to maintain spending at current levels.

That means any kind of major funding injection for early childhood education is highly unlikely in 2015 and probably beyond that.

The state recently landed a federal grant of up to $32 million to provide new and improved classes for about 10,500 youngsters in New Orleans and elsewhere. However, the assistance in the first of four years is just $2.4 million, and it applies only to 4-year-olds.

"That will be very helpful, so that is great," said Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Policy Institute for Children in New Orleans. "But that is just the tip of the iceberg."

Bronfin has been sounding alarms for nearly a year about how the early childhood overhaul will be financed.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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