Louisiana needs to invest more in early childhood education, state superintendent says

    60 percent of the state’s kindergarteners start enter unprepared

    (Getty Images stock photo)

    Only 46 percent of Louisiana 3rd graders are on track to master English and only 43 percent are on track to master math, a disturbing statistic that Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley attributes to 60 percent of the state’s kindergarteners starting school already behind the curve, Brumley said Wednesday morning in a virtual press conference announcing the state education department’s new priorities plan.

    Calling early-childhood preparedness “the most important educational challenge of our generation,” Brumley said, “we have to invest” in programs that give economically disadvantaged children more access to early childhood programs.

    “If we’re going to fully transform the state in the way we all hope we can, we have to see greater investment in early care,” Brumley said.

    Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said in an interview after Brumley’s remarks that over 90 percent of economically disadvantaged four-year- olds in Louisiana have access now to publicly funded early childhood programs.  However, she said, “we have a long way to go” to bridge the access gap in children 3 and younger because fewer than a third of economically disadvantaged Louisiana children in that age group have access to such programs.

    Brumley said the education department can work to improve the quality of early care centers, but “we’re going to need other support for funding.”

    “When you’re talking about kindergarten readiness, there are things that matter,” the superintendent said. “Like, having conversations with children, using words, having access to books and experiences. 

    “And we know we can provide that in early care centers in the state,” he said.

    “As we know, 80 percent of brain development happens before age 4,” Sonnier said. “Children need a strong foundation and how they get a strong foundation is having access to having quality early care and education.”

    Coinciding with Brumley’s remarks, the Louisiana Department of Education released a 10-page document called “Believe to Achieve: Educational Priorities.”  The listed priorities include making sure “every student is on track to a professional career, college degree or service,” creating “equitable, inclusive learning experiences for all children,” providing the “highest quality teaching and learning environment” and developing and keeping in place “a diverse, highly-effective educator workforce.”

    As for the state education department’s critical goals, kindergarten readiness is at the top, followed by students in 4th and 8th grade achieving mastery on the LEAP tests they take.