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The Arkansas Department of Education is accepting applications for local early childhood lead organizations, a provision of the LEARNS Act that’s designed to facilitate the administration of a unified early childhood and education system.
The LEARNS Act stipulates that ADE appoint and partner with local organizations that “will serve as the formal state-local implementation partners to execute the state’s early childhood plan in a manner that responds to local context,” according to an ADE Commissioner’s memo.
The sweeping education law requires that organizations support access to early childhood programs, identify gaps in service, foster partnerships, create alignment among public and private providers and agencies within the community that serve families and children, and establish a comprehensive, locally-supported plan for providing early childhood programs and services within the community.
ADE will fund local early childhood lead organizations to pilot this model in the 2023-2024 academic year, with full implementation by Oct. 1, 2024.
Funding will vary based on the size of an organization’s community including the number of children and providers in the catchment area. Each local lead organization will receive a minimum of $80,000 annually to perform the expected responsibilities.
While other states work with their local communities, ADE spokeswoman Kimberly Mundell said Friday that this pilot is tailored to Arkansas.
In the pilot year, local early childhood lead organizations must:
- Establish a comprehensive, locally-supported plan for supporting early childhood programs and services within the community.
- Serve as the designated early childhood captain for the community.
- Conduct stakeholder engagement and support local partnerships.
- Coordinate an early childhood information campaign in the community.
- Coordinate and report required data including an unduplicated count of children birth-to-five served by publicly-funded partners in the community.
- Serve as the planning entity for any additional early childhood grants released by the ADE
Any public agency, local public school system, Arkansas-based nonprofit organization or business with an educational or social services mission, or education co-op may apply.
Lead organizations will not necessarily be the same type of entity across the state, nor will every catchment area be defined by the same boundaries in order “to account for the diversity of the state’s regions and community-based leadership,” according to ADE.
Satisfactory execution of responsibilities during the initial year may lead to a continued designation as the lead for two additional years, according to the memo.
Mundell said this is a pilot, so ADE will review and adjust accordingly in the future.
Prospective organizations must include in their application a proposed boundary for the catchment area, which can be no smaller than a county and no larger than an education service cooperative service area.
An informational webinar for interested applicants is scheduled for Sept. 13. Applications must be submitted to [email protected] by 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 29.
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