How do you pay for preschool when there’s a shortage of state and federal funding? This is a question many local communities are wrestling with today, including several here in Massachusetts.
Across the country, local communities are reaching into their own pockets to “create programs tailored to suit the needs of their residents,” New America’s EdCentral blog explains.
This local action is crucial because “Nationwide, only four out of ten four-year-olds attend preschool each year, despite the widely accepted array of benefits an early start to education can provide a child.”
The blog reviews a new report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) that looks at pre-K in 10 cities, including Boston as well as Denver, Los Angeles (LAUP), New York City, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and West Sacramento.
Upon reviewing these local pre-K models, the report’s authors suggest “ten questions that any city or community working to expand pre-K opportunities for its residents should consider.”
The 10 communities faced challenges, the report says: “Scaling up from a model program to citywide or countywide access is difficult, and the local leaders profiled in our study had to address key issues about the focus, scope, quality components, duration, and rollout of their initiatives. Leaders had to determine an appropriate finance mechanism and develop the political will to secure it.”
Historically speaking, however, the local approach isn’t new.
“Interestingly, city efforts to expand preschool are reminiscent of the local movements to expand kindergarten more than a century ago.”
Questions and Answers
The report’s 10 questions and part of the answers:
Should preschool be for all, or only for the neediest?
Different communities provide different answers. Salt Lake City targets low-income, disadvantaged children. New York, on the other hand, is trying to create preschool access for all of its 4-year-olds.
Should local initiatives focus on 4-year-olds, or 3- and 4-year olds?
“Some suggest that it is wise to set a goal for offering preschool to both three- and four-year-old children, even if the initial focus is on four-year-olds. Two years of preschool may lead to better results than one year, although the impact of the second year may be less than from the first,” the report says.
What about teachers’ qualifications and pay, adult-to-child ratios, and other quality factors?
Answers to these questions vary across communities. For example, “Seattle, Boston, New York City, and the District of Columbia require lead teachers to have bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education (ECE) or a similar field…”
On the other hand, “Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have less rigorous teacher qualification requirements but provide higher reimbursements to programs whose lead teachers have bachelor’s degrees in ECE or a related field.”
When should preschools be open?
“Some cities offer exclusively half- or full-day (defined as up to 6.5 hours) preschools; others give parents the option of either half- or full-day preschool.”
How much does preschool cost?
“Boston, the District of Columbia, New York, San Antonio, and Seattle all fund programs offering at least six hours of instruction per day with relatively high-quality standards or requirements, and their expenditures per child range from $10,000 to $15,372 per year. A major portion of the expense in these initiatives is the compensation for lead teachers, who are required to have bachelor’s degrees and in some cases master’s degrees and/or early childhood certification.”
How do cities pay for preschool?
They use multiple sources of money including sales and property taxes, family fees, and federal funds.
How long does it take to serve the target population?
“Some of the initiatives, such as in Denver and New York City, attempted to serve their entire target population in Year 1, but most of the other initiatives chose to start small and gradually expand.”
What settings work best for preschool?
“The preschool initiatives examined fall into two broad categories: mixed-delivery systems and single-provider systems.”
“Only two of the 10 initiatives we studied were single provider systems—Boston Public Schools (BPS) Early Education and San Antonio’s program, which is currently operated by a private nonprofit established just to administer preschool. However, both Boston and San Antonio are adding partners in other settings to complement their existing systems.”
Who should run preschools?
“There are many choices for the overall administration of local preschool initiatives. A school district operates Boston’s program. City agencies administer the preschool initiatives in Seattle, West Sacramento, the District of Columbia, and New York City, whereas a nonprofit oversees administration in Denver, San Antonio, and Los Angeles.”
How can cities win public support?
“Almost every initiative studied had a local politician or other leader who took on preschool as a cause.”
“In New York Bill de Blasio encouraged the state legislature to dramatically increase funding for the state’s universal preschool program. In Boston, Mayors Tom Menino and Martin Walsh worked with the local school district to expand the city’s preschools.
“Community organizers and education advocates also can provide key leadership—particularly when their advocacy is combined with the clout of local leaders.”
The report concludes that local communities will have to “consider how to make local initiatives flexible enough to align with any emerging federal or state preschool initiatives. Given the variation in the regional initiatives developing, it will also be important to evaluate the initiatives’ impacts on program quality and access and on children’s school readiness and performance. Based on the history of K–12 in the United States, figuring out the best approach to preschool is likely to require a process of continuous improvement.”