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Apr 18, 2012 6:06 AM by AP

Jindal early childhood coordination bill passed

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's fragmented system of publicly funded prekindergarten and early childhood education programs will be coordinated and graded on a statewide scale.

The state Senate gave final passage to the measure sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal in a 39-0 vote Tuesday, sending it to the governor's desk.

Louisiana has early childhood programs scattered across agencies, some backed with state dollars and others with federal cash. The patchwork of programs aren't tracked and scored like public schools, which receive letter grades based on student performance on standardized tests and other measures.

The proposal by Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, will require the state education board to devise an integrated network of early childhood education programs and child care centers that receive public funding, with specific performance standards and letter grades, to be fully phased in by the 2015-16 school year.

Funding could be yanked for underperforming programs, once the standards are in place.

An estimated $1.5 billion a year in federal and state money is spent in Louisiana on early childhood educational and health programs, according to the governor's office.

But Jindal and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers have cited statistics suggesting that only 52 percent of children arrive in kindergarten prepared with enough basic training to learn the curriculum and succeed.

"In order to significantly improve outcomes at all levels of the state's educational system, it is imperative that standards for and expectations of our early childhood programs be raised to levels that will promote kindergarten readiness and sustain lifelong learning and achievement," Appel's bill says.

By July 1, 2013, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will have to define kindergarten readiness, establish the performance targets for children at different ages and coordinate with the health and social services departments.

The bill was largely overlooked in the heated debate over Jindal's successful push for other education ideas, including the creation of a statewide voucher program and the revamp of teacher tenure.

About 47 percent of Louisiana's 4-year-olds are in one of three state-funded preschool programs or national Head Start programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

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