As the state begins reopening, the Louisiana Department of Education on Thursday released a Strong Start 2020 Planning Guide for Early Childhood that outlines key planning priorities, funding opportunities, and resources to ensure a strong start for every early childhood community and provider.
"Quality, affordable childcare is essential for working families," said Assistant Superintendent Jessica Baghian. "The Strong Start funding and supports aim to help our community leaders rebuild their market of early childhood education providers, with health, safety and quality as the focus."
The release below outlines what help is available to these communities:
Early childhood communities comprise early childhood lead agencies, Child Care Resource & Referral agencies, school systems, Head Start grantees, and child care providers. The planning guide emphasizes how these entities should work together to ensure:
- All child care centers have the tools and resources they need to reopen safely and in accordance with Office of Public Health guidelines.
- Communities sustain and/or increase access to opportunities for early childhood care and education in the near and long-term.
- Teachers are prepared to lead classrooms and provide high-quality interactions for children every day.
- Families are supported to re-enroll children in early childhood programs, or to provide quality care and education in their homes if programs are unable to reopen or remain open.
It also details how to accomplish these goals through new funding opportunities, guidance and resources.
The funding opportunities include:
- COVID-19 Community Child Care Recovery Grants: Early childhood communities are now eligible to apply for grants to support activities aligned to the state's Strong Start planning priorities by June 12. The grants, which will vary in amount based on each community's size and needs, will be used to support recovery efforts. Recovery efforts may include, for example, purchasing personal protective equipment, providing subgrants to individual providers to cover the costs of reopening, providing incentives and training to returning staff, and/or engaging families as they consider returning to centers.
- Louisiana Child Care Assistance Provider Relief Grants: Earlier this month, the Department awarded nearly $10 million in federal relief grants to individual child care providers impacted by COVID-19. To support centers opening during Phase 1 of reopening, an application for a second round of relief grants has been released. For providers who open later in the summer, additional relief grants will be made available.
Key guidance and resources include:
- Health and safety materials, including checklists for opening, a health tracker, a sample drop-off and pick-up routine, and cleaning schedules;
- A toolkit of resources to encourage, incentive, and support center staff and teachers as they return to work;
- Professional development opportunities for center directors to strengthen their connections and leadership skills as they adapt to changes and continue to improve;
- Information on how to maximize existing funding and secure new funding to continue to expand access to early childhood care and education for Louisiana's youngest learners;
- Vendor lists and screeners to support children's social and emotional development, which may have been interrupted or impacted by the disruptions in their routines;
- Top-rated learning materials that can be easily adapted during modified center operations, and training for teachers on how to utilize them;
- Services to meet unique needs of the state's most vulnerable children, including those with disabilities; and
- Recommendations on how to communicate with families, engage them in at-home learning, understand and meet their basic needs, and support them as they navigate transitions.
The planning guide complements a new report by the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children that shows early care and education providers, some of whom risk permanently closing, need support to reopen, and parents will have even more difficulty affording early care and education due to COVID-19 precautions. The report emphasizes critical investments must be made in early care and education for employees to return to work and the Louisiana economy to fully reopen.
To learn more about Louisiana's plan for a strong start to 2020 for early childhood education and for pre-K-12, visit the Department's Strong Start 2020 webpage.
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