ADE Selects First Cohort of Local Leads to Improve Early Childhood Education

The Arkansas Department of Education announced today the initial cohort of 12 organizations, representing 29 counties, that will establish a comprehensive, localized plan to ensure children and families have access to high-quality early childhood education in their communities.

As part of a pilot program, the organizations, known as local leads, will align their plans to the state's vision for early childhood education as defined by the LEARNS Act. The LEARNS Act established an Office of Early Childhood within the ADE dedicated to unifying the state's early childhood education system, decreasing administrative burdens, maximizing funding for children, and improving services for families and providers.

"We know that early childhood education is critical for students' future education development," Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "That's why we prioritized the issue in Arkansas LEARNS and committed to finding local solutions that empower parents, kids, and educators alike. The 12 organizations joining our initial pilot program will lead the way in a diverse set of Arkansas communities, paving the way for our entire state to take care of students from cradle to career."

"The LEARNS Act recognizes the importance of the local community's ability to address the unique high-quality childcare and early learning program needs of families and children," ADE Secretary Jacob Oliva said. "Based on the interest from local communities in this pilot program, it's clear Arkansas is committed to improving experiences for our youngest learners so they are positioned for success in kindergarten and beyond."

The organizations listed below were selected following a competitive application process. ADE invited school districts, education service cooperatives, higher education institutions, public agencies, nonprofits, and businesses with a social services mission to apply to participate in the pilot program. ADE received more than 30 applications. The 12 programs that were selected to participate will each serve a different geographic area of the state as defined in their application.

The pilot program is effective for the 2023-2024 school year and will involve two cohorts of local leads. A second cohort will be announced in the spring of 2024. During the pilot phase, ADE will work with the local lead organizations to support access to early childhood programs, identify gaps in service, foster local partnerships, and create alignment among public and private providers and agencies within the community.

LEARNS calls for full implementation of local early childhood lead organizations by Oct. 1, 2024.

Organizations selected to participate in the first cohort are listed below.

Arkansas State University - JonesboroDesha and Chicot Counties
Child Care Aware of Northwest ArkansasBenton School District
Child Care Aware of West Central ArkansasGarland and Saline Counties
City of Little RockCity of Little Rock
Dawson Education Service CooperativeClark County
DeQueen-Mena Education Service CooperativeHoward, Little River, Montgomery, Polk, and Sevier Counties
Impact Independence County FoundationIndependence County
Northeast Arkansas Education CooperativeClay, Green, Lawrence, Randolph Counties
Ozarks Unlimited Resources Education Service CooperativeBaxter, Boone, Carroll, Johnston, Madison, Marion, Newton, and Searcy Counties
South Central Service CooperativeOuachita and Calhoun Counties
Springdale School DistrictSpringdale School District
Russellville School DistrictRussellville School District