Today, we have welcome news that at the national level, trends toward growing educational inequality show signs of reversing - with a hat tip to the broad array of leaders across business, health, faith, community organizations, government, and schools who have worked together to emphasize the importance of the earliest years of a child's life.
Sean Reardon and Ximina A. Portilla have found evidence from three nationally representative samples of incoming kindergartners that between 1998 and 2010, school readiness improved for children overall, with low-income children beginning to catch up with their higher-income peers.
This research should reinforce our resolve to work together to spread the message and ensure each child has the opportunities they need for a strong start in life.
Communities across Kentucky are now resolving to build capacity for greater collaboration and partnership.
The Preschool Partnership Grants authorized in the 2017-18 biennial budget are an important opportunity for Kentucky communities and school districts to build partnerships to work toward their school readiness goals. The state agency partners that worked together to design the grant program were right to do so in a way that meets communities where they are – encouraging all communities to apply for planning grants (Tier 1) or implementation grants (Tier 2) for those that are farther along.
Thanks to this grant program, school districts, child care providers, and other partners will have specific support to build capacity to serve more low-income 4-year olds in high-quality, full-day settings that provide the best foundation for school readiness and support for working families.
The 2014 General Assembly increased the eligibility for public preschool from 150% to 160% of the federal poverty level beginning in fiscal year 2016, providing an extra $18 million to cover expected enrollment increases. Across Kentucky, however, preschool enrollment of low-income 4-year olds declined from 9,338 to 9,201 between December 2014 and December 2015. Partnerships between school districts and child care centers will help boost enrollment and strengthen Kentucky’s early childhood care and education system from birth through preschool across all areas of the Commonwealth.
Many states across the nation, including states such as North Carolina with many rural districts, have long had “mixed delivery” models to deliver preschool with public funds in both school districts and child care settings. Several states, such as Oregon and Virginia, are now rolling out system that encourage or require this approach. One of the major reasons they have taken a mixed delivery approach is to maintain the viability of child care centers, which provide such essential care and education for infants and toddlers and working families.
While Kentucky policymakers did not choose a mixed delivery approach for its preschool program, the Prichard Committee’s Strong Start Kentucky coalition has long recognized the need to encourage voluntary collaborative models across school districts and child care to ensure both sectors remain strong, particularly in rural areas where child care options are the most limited.
In April 2015, in partnership with Metro United Way, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Kentucky Youth Advocates Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, the Kentucky Head Start Association, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Stars for Kids Now, we released a brief, Pre-K Collaboration in Kentucky: Maximizing Resources for Kindergarten Readiness, that detailed examples of models underway now in Kentucky. Several partnerships in rural areas have been pioneers in working together to better serve young children:
- Christian County - Hopkinsville Lets Go Play Academy and Christian County Schools. The school district sends a preschool certified teacher to the child care center to provide preschool services. The center provides the classroom assistant.
- Perry County - New Beginnings Learning Center (NBLC) partners with Hazard/Perry County Schools. The center offers Head Start, state funded preschool and private high-quality child care in a fully blended classroom. Children receive a full-day program with wraparound services to meet families’ needs. The preschool teacher is paid half by the school system and half by New Beginnings.
- Henderson County - Henderson County School District, Audubon Head Start and Henderson Child Development Center. The school district has twelve preschool classrooms providing a half-day program. The child development center is onsite to provide wraparound services and extend the school day.
The Preschool Partnership grant program is designed to help more districts and communities plan to take these steps or to enhance current partnerships.
Of all the stretches of road on a child’s educational journey, those that the child travels in her earliest years are those that often take the most coordination to get her where she needs to go next. We are encouraged by the courageous partnerships across the state and look forward to learning from their efforts.
*Note - we have edited this post to clarify that the research draws on a nationally-representative sample of incoming kindergarteners, and to focus on one study cited in the New York Times article which identified reduction of school readiness gaps based on family income.