The Need for Pre-K Collaboration
Jerry Kitzi, Retired Director of Early Learning at Kansas City Public Schools
High quality early education programs have a positive impact on child development. In fact, an analysis of the body of research on early childhood education was best summarized in the report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods, authored by Shonkoff and Phillips at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University:
“The general question of whether early childhood programs can make a difference has been asked and answered in the affirmative innumerable times. This generic query is no longer worthy of further investigation. The central research priority for the early childhood field is to address more important sets of questions about how different types of interventions influence specific outcomes for children and families.”
The State of Missouri is in step with this basic finding and has demonstrated its commitment to young children by fully funding the foundation formula to allow school districts to enroll a percentage of three- and four-year-old children across the state into high quality early learning settings. To realize the strategic advantage of early learning programs, school districts must have the ability to contract with community providers for high quality services. Many school districts will not have the space within their current facilities to create high quality learning environments for young children. Even more important is the need to address the delicate balance of the early care and education services that exist in a community.
Many community providers, be they small centers or the more common “Family, Friend and Neighbor” providers, maintain a balance of space, trained staff, and affordable rates to serve families with children from birth to five years of age. Typically, they balance the much more expensive infant/toddler care with costs offset by rates for Pre-K age children (three- and four-year-olds). The larger licensing ratio of adults to children for this age group offsets the higher cost of infant/toddler care with much smaller adult to child ratios. Were a district capable of recruiting a large number of qualifying three- and four-year-olds in a district to its facilities, that move could undermine the economics of the community provider network.
Districts should plan collaboratively with community providers so the maximum number of qualified children can access high quality early learning seats, be they in a district classroom, local early learning center, or that of family, friend and neighbor care provider that also meets quality standards. To maintain that balance in our communities, school districts must be able to contract for high quality community-based early learning services.