Councilwoman Helena Moreno at a December 2019 City Council meeting (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The New Orleans City Council approved a contract Thursday that will send $1.5 million annually to the Orleans Parish School Board and $1 million yearly to the nonprofit Agenda for Children to manage a large expansion of publicly funded early childhood education seats — should residents approve a proposed property tax to fund the program in the April 30 election. 

Based on current assessed property values in the city, the millage will generate $21 million per year and provide 1,000 additional early childhood education seats in the city. The city currently funds that program at $3 million per year, which creates 200 seats.

NOLA Public Schools, which manages the centralized enrollment for the city’s K-12 charter schools, would use its $1.5 million per year to expand its enrollment system to cover the new early childhood seats and to “bolster its support network for families,” district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo has said.

One thousand additional students to enroll represents a relatively small increase to the district, which is already managing enrollment for 45,000 K-12 students. However, the youngest students can require more paperwork as they enter the system for the first time. 

That would include working with families to select a program, hiring and training additional staff — though the district did not specify how many — and improving its data systems. Alfonzo also mentioned a number of district departments that would be involved but did not provide details on additional staffing or budgetary needs for those departments.

The agreement also includes a one-time payment of $500,000 to the school district for outreach and marketing concerning early childhood seats.

Another $1 million per year would go to administrative costs for Agenda for Children, a nonprofit organization authorized by the state to coordinate early childhood education in the city. Agenda for Children’s CEO Jen Roberts referred questions to Caitlin Berni, a spokesperson for the Yes for NOLA Kids campaign which is backing the tax measure. 

“Those funds cover staffing and oversight of the City Seats [publicly funded early childhood education] program, independent evaluation and quality assurance,” Yes for NOLA Kids campaign spokeswoman Caitlin Berni wrote in an email last month.

The payments to the school district would be made on a per-student basis: $1,000 per student to run an enrollment program, similar to the web-based lottery system (formerly known as OneApp)  it runs for K-12 schools, and $500 per student for staff. If 1,000 students apply and receive spots in early education centers, the total comes to $1.5 million, roughly seven percent of projected tax collections. 

“We want to make sure our obligations are funded,” Orleans Parish School Board member Carlos Zervigon said in an interview last month.

The district has not answered specific questions about how many additional staff it may need to cover the additional work. 

Agenda for Children has also approved the CEA, Roberts confirmed in an email. And the Orleans Parish School Board approved the CEA at a meeting last month. 

The council also passed an additional measure offered by councilwoman Helena Moreno. 

Moreno’s motion “adds a little bit of additional accountability” by requiring quarterly reports also be submitted to the council, in addition to the city. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...