Funding an expansion of pre-K in Columbus

We have been hearing a lot about the proposed levy for Columbus City Schools (CCS), as mandated by the freshly-signed HB 167. The District’s Millage Committee has had to work quickly, even ahead of the signing, in order to get the issue on the ballot by November. Much has been made over provisions to fund an independent auditor, to distribute local tax revenue to high-performing non-profit charter schools, and to continue with the district’s expansive building and renovation program.

But one provision included in the package that has garnered little public attention, despite being the same size as the charter school funding recommendation, is the expansion of pre-Kindergarten programming for children in Columbus. The provision allocates 1 mil or approximately $42.5 million over 5 years to pre-K programs.

Pre-K expansion has been on the district’s radar for over a year. In fact, the last millage committee to convene back in July 2012 had included funding to the tune of 1.49 mills for this initiative. When the district’s data issues came to light, the proposed levy issue for November 2012 was shelved under great pressure from within and outside of the district.

The latest iteration of the district’s pre-K expansion was presented to the Board at its March 5 meeting. The proposal lays out the reasons why quality preschool programming is important to children and how the lack of it can be felt from Kindergarten through third grade and beyond. Proponents of pre-K expansion have noted that:

  • 34 percent of children entering Kindergarten in CCS scored in the lowest band of KRA-L (The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment - Literacy, which measures skill areas important to becoming a successful reader and helps teachers plan for experiences and lessons that encourage reading), and therefore require intervention; and
  • 89 percent of incoming Kindergartners who have received CCS Pre-K services do not require intervention. (CCS’s present Pre-K program began in 1990 and now reaches approximately 20 percent of the incoming Kindergarten population.)

In 2011-12, only 40 percent of CCS students reached proficiency in reading at third grade, and with the advent of Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee, serious consequences are going to be felt throughout the district if the rate remains at this level. Quality pre-K programming is intended to address these deficiencies at an earlier age.

Quality pre-K programming under the district’s plan includes parent and family engagement, appropriately aligned curriculum, enriched learning environment, community engagement, linkages to comprehensive services for families as needed, and transition to Kindergarten services among other things. The goal of the program expansion is to ultimately reach 50 percent of incoming Kindergartners (approximately 1,500 additional students), and new program sites will be targeted to the areas of highest need based on KRA-L data. These sites can include both district buildings and existing private or public providers who agree to partner with the district, according to the plan as it stands now.

Pre-K educational services should be available to any family who wants them, and they should be marketed aggressively in the highest-need Columbus neighborhoods. Children who are not ready for Kindergarten in terms of early literacy skills, social adeptness, and cognitive readiness enter the K-12 system at a disadvantage from the very start.

The earlier that children can access the benefits of education the better for us all, and Columbus City Schools’ levy takes important steps to address that issue in the neediest areas of our city.

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