ADE Selects 13 Organizations for Second Local Leads Cohort to Improve Early Childhood Education

The Arkansas Department of Education is pleased to announce today the 13 organizations selected for the second early childhood education local leads cohort. These organizations, combined with the first cohort of 12 organizations announced in November 2023, represent 65 counties around the state and will establish a comprehensive, localized plan to ensure children and families have access to high-quality early childhood education in their communities.

Children who are enrolled in robust early childhood education programs receive a jumpstart on learning and skill development that set them up for success, which is a main reason why early learning was a key component of the LEARNS Act. As part of this transformative legislation, the Office of Early Childhood was transferred to ADE, with a focus on improving access to quality early childhood education programs and building an education system that spans from birth to post-secondary education.

"Arkansas parents are blessed with a diversity of early childhood education options," Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "But if those groups don't talk to each other and establish some common standards, parents won't know how to serve their kids best. The local leads program identifies gold-standard early childhood programs in every part of our state and helps us find gaps in coverage, so we know where to direct additional resources."

"Building an exceptional education system that covers birth to post-secondary degree attainment starts with early childhood education," ADE Secretary Jacob Oliva said. "With this second cohort of local leads, we are expanding coverage to more than three-fourths of the state and building on the work accomplished with the first cohort. We are committed to ensuring every child has access to a quality education no matter their age."

The local leads organizations are tasked with supporting access to early childhood programs, identifying gaps, fostering local partnerships, creating alignment among public and private agencies in the community, and creating a comprehensive early childhood program plan for the community.

School districts, education service cooperatives, higher education institutions, public agencies, nonprofits, and businesses with a social services mission were encouraged to apply for the second cohort. Four of the organizations in the second cohort began working with the first cohort and applied to expand their reach.

The program will include three cohorts, with a third cohort to be announced this fall.

Cohort One Successes

The impact from the first cohort can be seen across the state. For example, cohort one hosts in-person provider meetings in their region to engage in vision setting activities for their community, share key information from the state, and listen to the experiences and challenges providers in their region are facing. The first cohort submitted a plan to the department for initial and sustained engagement with providers in their designated counties.

For the first time ever, the first cohort is working on an unduplicated count of all publicly-funded children enrolled in each local lead's area of service. This information will assist ADE with better understanding and solving the current gaps in access to early childhood care and education.

Finally, 29 representatives from the first cohort are trained in either the Infant-Toddler or PreK-3rd CLASS tool, an evidence-based tool used to measure the quality of interactions in early learning classrooms. Classroom observations will begin this fall and will expand this spring.

Cohort Two

The complete list of organizations participating in the second cohort are listed below.

Arkansas River Education Service CooperativeJefferson, Arkansas, Cleveland, and Lincoln Counties
Arkansas State University, Child Care AwareWoodruff, St. Francis, and Lee Counties
Conway School DistrictFaulkner County
Crowley's Ridge Educational Service CooperativeCraighead, Poinsett, Crittenden, Cross, and Jackson Counties
Dawson Education Service CooperativePike, Hot Spring, and Grant Counties
Guy Fenter Education Service CooperativeCrawford, Franklin, and Logan Counties
Mississippi County Arkansas Economic Opportunities Commission, Inc.Mississippi County
National Park College, Child Care AwarePerry and Dallas Counties
Northcentral Arkansas Education Service CooperativeFulton, Sharp, Izard, and Stone Counties
South Central Service CooperativeUnion County
Southwest Arkansas Education CooperativeHempstead, Nevada, Miller, and Lafayette Counties
University of Arkansas at Fort SmithSebastian and Scott Counties
White River Planning and Development District, Child Care AwareConway, Cleburne, and White Counties

To learn more about the local leads program, visit