Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden was one of only 20 legislators from across the country to participate in a conference last month hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures in an effort to give states a leg up on early childhood development.
"Basically, what we learned is how important early childhood development is and what other states from around the country are doing about it," Reynolds said.
At the conference held in Denver, Reynolds said he learned that if a child does not have at least one year of early childhood education at age four, "by kindergarten, they are already three-quarters of a year behind (other students)," he said. "That gap – sometimes it closes, most of the time it doesn't."
More local and state services are key to the process, he pointed out.
"In other states, they've consolidated a lot of their services – Children and Family Services and Department of Education and others, consolidated into one area to where everybody is coordinated," Reynolds said. "That is one of the good things that I think we are going to be doing in Louisiana. For me, that's priority one."
Funding is a problem, however.
"Right now, we're funded with Auxiliary Grants (from Social Services) that are getting old," he said. "We're down to about four million (dollars), so when school systems get their money, we can only address the underprivileged kids – we're not addressing everyone."
Reynolds said some states, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, use a system of private-public partnerships.
"That's where companies and people put money into the program, and the state will reimburse them down the line," he said.
"States have been leading efforts to improve the quality of child care, implementing preschool and innovative ways to support families with young children across the age spectrum from birth to kindergarten and into the early grades," Bruce Starr, NCSL president, said. "They are also addressing challenges with governance, financing, data systems and teacher training and professional development."
There will be a second meeting in Minneapolis, which Reynolds plans to attend.
"Fellows participate in a kick off and final meeting as well as two virtual seminars throughout the year," Starr said. "In addition, NCSL will be available to provide background research, testimony, bill drafting ideas or other research to support their efforts."
Reynolds said he is glad for the help, as he intends to work throughout the year on a package of bills that will address early childhood education for the 2015 Legislative session.