Last month the Boston Globe gave the city of Cambridge an inspiring shove. A Globe editorial encouraged Cambridge to create a model, universal pre-K program.
“If the results are as positive as have been achieved elsewhere, it could serve as a model for universal pre-K in neighboring communities, including Boston. The move would also allow Cambridge to mature from a leader in spending on education to a leader in educational outcomes,” the Globe wrote, noting that Cambridge’s $27,000-a-year in per-pupil-spending — the state average is $13,600 — had not yet translated into above average MCAS scores.
Currently, only children who are lucky enough to turn four before March 31st are able to enroll in Cambridge’s public preschool programs. As the Globe explains, “Those born between April 1 and Aug. 31 — except for the lucky few who won a spot in one of Cambridge’s two sought-after 3-year-old preschool programs — must pay for another year of private schooling or stay home until the following fall.”
That’s a shame because as the Globe says, teachers in Cambridge report “that students who enter school at age 5 require significant remediation when compared to their peers who’ve completed pre-K.”
Last June, frustrated Cambridge parents Kristi Jobson and Karen McManus complained about the inequity of sorting by birth dates in a letter that ran on the news site Wicked Local Cambridge.
“Baby due in April? If you want your child to have access to public school pre-kindergarten programming, better hope you deliver early,” the women wrote. They also explained, “There’s hope for universal JK [Junior Kindergarten] in our city — but it will take the combined efforts of the City Council, the School Committee, and parents like you. It may also require some creative thinking from the city, given the CPS [Cambridge Public Schools] space crunch.”
In addition to creative thinking, Cambridge will need funding to expand its preschool programs.
“It is hard to know exactly how much doing so would cost,” the Globe writes, “but the best estimate, based on kindergarten enrollments, is that the district would need to add about 200 additional pre-K slots. But school committee members and city councilors both agree that, if the will exists, Cambridge could afford the added expense.”
Cambridge schools’ Superintendent Jeffrey Young agrees that expanding pre-K should be a priority, the Globe says, but he “is less confident that the district has the funding or classroom space to undertake such an initiative right now.”
The Globe suggests that Cambridge could address the challenges of space and cost by using vouchers to send children to the city’s high-quality private preschool programs.
In their letter, Jobson and McManus ask, “What if the city-run Department of Human Services preschool classrooms were moved from public school buildings to another city building, opening up classroom space for JK?” Or what if Cambridge had a dedicated building for Junior Kindergarten?
Cambridge should heed its citizens’ calls for universal pre-K, joining San Antonio, Providence, and other cities that have found creative ways to expand access to high-quality early education. Cambridge’s leadership could help pave the way for Boston and for the state’s Gateway Cities — former manufacturing hubs such as Holyoke, Lowell, and New Bedford.
Offering all the state’s young children a strong start through high-quality early education would help them achieve lifelong success and, in turn, boost the general prosperity of the commonwealth.