How Preschool Works in Louisiana

Takeaway: Louisiana has relatively strict guidelines for preschool facilities, which vary based on the designation of preschool type — which is itself determined by the facility’s source of funding. The state’s search tool is basic, allowing a user to filter for license type and parish. Louisiana is set to up to receive $32 million in federal grant money this year to aid in revamping the state’s pre-K programs, and specifically to help provide access for low-income families. If successful, the overhauled program will implement a report card system for licensed programs and set academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Overview

Louisiana requires most center-based preschools to be licensed, whereas home-based preschools must instead be registered. Louisiana’s online search, run by the Department of Children and Family Services, only provides options for licensed facilities, but has filters for parish and license type.

Louisiana is currently working to build one of the most progressive pre-K programs in the country. After facing low enrollment and statewide confusion about the available offerings, Louisiana is working to create about 30 pilot public pre-K programs by the end of August 2015. The state currently has its own Child Care and Development Fund, which provides cash assistance to low-income families seeking child care, as well as subsidies to facilities to improve the quality of care provided. Along with a rapid expansion of high-quality publicly-funded pre-K programs, Louisiana plans to establish performance guidelines and standards for 3- and 4-year-olds as a means of increasing child preparedness. Due to a $1 billion budget shortfall, administrators are fearful that the program will suffer cutbacks and not receive the funding it needs.

Center-Based Care

Louisiana considers any place or facility with the purpose of providing care to at least seven children on a regular basis to be a “child day care center” and requires the facility to be licensed in order to operate. All staff at licensed facilities must have early childhood education experience, and directors must hold a bachelor’s degree in education, or an associate’s degree and the equivalent in experience.

There are three types of licenses in Louisiana. Determinations about the appropriate license are made based on how the centers are funded. A type I license is for an early childhood center run by a church, and all former child care centers that were designated as “class B” are grandfathered in as type 1. Type II licenses are for centers that are funded solely by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and are often called “federal food and nutrition programs.” Finally, the type III license is for all centers receiving federal funds; these centers must meet the state’s academic standards.

All centers must observe suitable caregiver-to-child ratios. For type I programs, these are as follows: For infants under 1 year, 6:1; for 1-year-olds, 8:1; for 2-year-olds, 12:1; for 3-year-olds, 14:1; for 4-year-olds, 16:1; for 5-year-olds, 20:1; and for children ages 6 and up, 25:1. For types II and III, the ratios are a bit more favorable. For infants under 1 year, 5:1; for 1-year-olds, 7:1; for 2-year-olds, 11:1; for 3-year-olds, 13:1; for 4-year-olds, 15:1; for 5-year-olds, 19:1; and for children ages 6 and up, 23:1.

The wording of state regulations suggests that the licensing division’s authority to demand changes after site inspections is limited, especially as compared to regulatory oversight in other states. The licensing division inspects licensed facilities at least once per year, and it also conducts complaint investigations whenever a problem or abuse is cited. That said, there appears to be some red tape, as the regulations specify that the licensing division may “apply for an administrative search warrant to obtain entry to an early learning center, if necessary.” The state’s fire marshal office outlines day care center inspection guidelines.

Home-Based Care

Home-based care, also called family care, takes place in the home of the caregiver. Preschools in these settings may accommodate up to six children. Family care centers are not licensed by the state, but they must register with the state if they provide child care assistance. Family care programs are subject to inspection by the fire marshal. Family care centers are less common in Louisiana, given the well-established and widely accepted standards for center-based care.

Unlicensed Care

Louisiana provides few exemptions to licensed care. Summer camps, along with “parents’ day out” programs, are exempt. Other types of unlicensed care are not legal. If the licensing division becomes aware of a non-exempt operational facility, it will investigate, though the regulations do not make clear what authority, if any, the division has to penalize or shutter illegal child care centers.

Discover Louisiana preschools near you using the free Noodle preschool search, the most comprehensive tool of its kind.