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DCFS Announces State Not Pursuing Early Learning Challenge Grant

BATON ROUGE - Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Secretary Ruth Johnson announced today that the state will not apply for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant. DCFS is the lead fiscal agency for early childhood education.

Secretary Johnson said agencies are already in the process of streamlining the state's early childhood education programs because the programs are uncoordinated with no clear governance structure, and have different funding streams and quality standards. Secretary Johnson emphasized that the grant would only add more of the same - more micromanagement, more regulation, and less flexibility to focus on programs that produce positive results for children.

Secretary Johnson said, "The reality is that right now we have an early childhood education system that has regulatory obstacles and is uncoordinated because it has separate funding streams, different quality standards, and no clear governance structure. Before we throw more money at a program that has no clear structure and too much red tape, we need to streamline the governance of our early childhood programs, align the standards and regulations governing those programs, and more effectively use the resources we already invest in them. The Louisiana Department of Education, the Department of Health and Hospitals and DCFS are developing a plan to do just that. Louisiana already annually invests roughly $1.4 billion state and federal funds in FY12, not including approximately $150 million for Head Start, in programs serving children 0-5. This grant only offers one time federal dollars that are programmatic and will not go to the expansion of services for children."

"The grant has strings attached that will force more state and federal control on our education system. We want to do the exact opposite. The grant would require providers to follow yet another set of federal regulations that present additional burdens. In short, the Early Learning Challenge adds more red tape to a system already mired in red tape. The grant focuses more on regulations and process, instead of focusing on our goal - to develop a system that meets the needs of children to ensure they are school ready when they enter Kindergarten"

Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler added, "We have an early childhood system that is disorganized and has no clear structure. We need to completely revamp these programs and streamline our oversight, our funding streams, and our quality standards. Adding more money to a system that is inefficient and mired in red tape will not effectively address the needs of our children. That's why we're proposing overhauling our early childhood system to make sure it's working for our children."

Kathy Kliebert, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, said, "We have already proven with the development of the Coordinated System of Care that ingenuity and freedom to collaborate at the state level is the best path to success for creating effective systems to care for Louisiana children. Too often at DHH we see that the strings that come with this kind of grant funding inhibit, rather than facilitate, our ability to do what's best for Louisiana children and families. We are committed to working with our partner agencies moving forward to ensure that our children's health is a top priority as we develop a statewide system and strong foundation for our youngest residents."

The grant puts a heavy emphasis on teacher credentials for both the content of those credentials and the number of teachers holding them. The grant would force states to define what early childhood educators should broadly know and be able to do according to a narrow list of items. However, there is no research-based connection between having a degree alone and early learning educator effectiveness.

Louisiana has taken the opposite approach. In fact, Louisiana has been at the forefront of identifying highly effective teachers in K-12 classrooms by determining the academic value those teachers add to their students and tying those results back to the teacher preparation programs from which they graduated.

Secretary Johnson said early childhood education programs should take a page from the state's K-12 teacher effectiveness work and evaluate student outcomes to identify highly effective early learning educators and the programs from which they graduated in order to spread those best practices.

The grant also focuses on early childhood accountability in the form of a tiered quality rating system. Louisiana has this system already, but the grant requires applicants to follow standards that have no proven effectiveness and are more regulatory than the standards Louisiana has now. Secretary Johnson said the real reform need has to do with funding streams and the governance structure for using those dollars, which is largely outside the scope of the grant.

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