Early Childhood

Senate panel drops Pence-backed preschool program

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

One of Gov. Mike Pence’s top legislative priorities, a preschool pilot program, appears to have been stymied for 2014.

The program that would have been created by House Bill 1004 was set aside today by the Senate Education Committee, which preferred to hand the idea off to a legislative summer committee for more study.

The rewritten bill, with the pilot program removed and language creating the study committee inserted, passed the committee 9-0.

“This is an effort to put this suggested program into a form where it can actually be successful and do what it needs to do,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who proposed the amendment to move the issue to a study committee. “I think this is a logical step to take.”

Kara Brooks, a spokesman for Pence, suggested in a statement he was not giving up on the idea of establishing state support for preschool.

“Gov. Pence believes every child deserves to start school ready to learn, and he believes now is the time for a voluntary pre-K program to help Indiana’s low-income kids,” she said. “The governor looks forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly to advance this important initiative.”

House Bill 1004 has enjoyed wide support in the House, which last month passed it 87-9. It’s possible the pilot program could resurface as an amendment when the bill is considered on the Senate floor or in conference committee to resolve differences with the version passed by the House. It could also be added to another education bill.

Senators on the education committee have long been hesitant about launching any state-funded preschool program. Last year, the same committee scuttled a similar proposal for a pilot program, reworking that bill into a small grant program. Indiana is one of nine states that spends no state money for direct aid to children to attend preschool.

But this year state aid for preschool got a strong push from Pence. The governor made his first appearance of his 13-month tenure to testify for a bill to try to persuade the committee to allow the full Senate to vote on the bill.

With high quality preschool, children living in poverty have a better chance to succeed in school and life, Pence said in his testimony. Without preschool, they can fall behind in school, putting them at risk for dropping out or worse.

“It’s not that they are not willing and bright,” he told the committee in his testimony. “As a parent and as your governor, I find that not only unacceptable, but heartbreaking.”

Pence made concessions to try to assuage concerns from Kenley and others about the potential costs of the program. The bill was a scaled down version of his original proposal. It would have provided tuition support to about 1,000 low income children in five counties. The program also was constructed so it would cost no money until after the next biennial budget was created in 2015, a key concern of Senate Republicans.

Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation estimates the program would cost about $10.6 million when fully implemented. Start up costs in 2015 would be about $650,000 with the first children enrolling in 2016.

Kenley listed 10 questions he hoped the study committee would answer. Key among them was whether Indiana could get flexibility from the federal government to use federal money to fund the program without tapping state money. Federal funds currently support Head Start and other preschool programs for low income families in Indiana.

“Federal law allows for waivers to be secured by states,” Kenley said. “President Obama says he’s in favor of preschool education. We are hoping Indiana can go to the White House and Washington. If they would let us use the money that is already there we can have a pretty significant program developed here without using those dollars.”

The proposed summer study committee’s to do list

An amendment to House bill 1004 offered by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, and supported by the Senate Education Committee, removed the preschool pilot program backed by Gov. Mike Pence and inserted language to create a summer study committee. The amendment detailed 10 areas Kenley asked for the committee to study:

-The feasibility of Indiana obtaining a block grant and waiver under the federal Head Start program, possibly to redirect money from Head Start for preschool vouchers such as was proposed in House Bill 1004 or an alternative program.

-The feasibility of obtaining a Child Care Development Block Grant or other federal funds to pay for Indiana preschool programs.

-The options for funding preschool or early learning programs through partnerships with business, philanthropic or communities.

-Whether other states have developed rigorous accountability standards for preschool programs.

-Parental involvement opportunities to prepare children for school outside of a formal preschool program, such as promoting the benefits of reading to children.

-Opportunities to equip parents with skills needed to improve their ability to contribute to the education of their children prior to kindergarten.

-The economic benefits of preschool.

-The appropriate state agency or entity to develop and oversee preschool accountability standards.

-The appropriate income standard to use to determine eligibility for tuition assistance from the state for preschool.

-Opportunities to partner with an investment group or entity to establish an investment fund or vehicle to finance preschool in Indiana.

Immigration fears

Chicago on Trump administration changes: ‘A sicker, poorer and less secure community’

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
A scene from an August immigration rally in downtown Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted a public comment on the proposed public charge rule changes on Monday.

The possibility of tougher rules on immigration and citizenship has provoked “tremendous fear” and plummeting participation in publicly funded daycare programs and afterschool care, according to a federal memorandum the City of Chicago submitted Monday.

The Trump administration has proposed changes that would weigh participation in programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance when granting residency and citizenship.

The changes could be devastating, the Chicago memorandum warns.

They could affect 110,000 Chicago residents, according to the filing. One in three Chicago residents receives Medicaid benefits, which the proposed changes would affect.

Chicago and New York led a coalition of 30 cities that filed comments to the Department of Homeland Security over changes to the so-called “public charge” rule, which is used by immigration officials to decide who is allowed entry and permanent residency in the United States.

“History teaches that, given this choice, many immigrants will choose to forgo public aid, which will make them a sicker, poorer, and less secure community,” according to the City of Chicago’s comments. You can read the entire document below.

Already, the city said, a group called Gads Hill that operates child care centers in Pilsen and North Lawndale has struggled to enroll children because of families’ worries about the impending rules.

Another operator, Shining Star Youth and Community Services in South Chicago, saw families start to keep children home since the proposed changes were announced.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago told the city that participation in its after-school programming also has taken a hit, the filing said.

The changes to the proposed rule do not specifically mention Head Start or any of the publicly funded child care programs. But many families are fearful that participation in anything offered by the government — from child care to health care to even food programs — would bring them to the attention of immigration authorities.

Early childhood advocates shared similar concerns at a November meeting of the Early Learning Council, an influential group of policymakers who help set the state agenda for children ages birth to 5.

“Families are very confused about the changes,” Rocio Velazquez-Kato, an immigration policy analyst with the Latino Policy Forum, told the group. “They think that by enrolling in Head start or free and reduced-price lunch at school — that it will factor against them.”

Public comment on the proposed rule change was due Monday. The 60-day public comment period is required by law before the federal government delivers a final recommendation.

on the move

Lack of transportation, conflicting deadlines put school choice out of reach for some, study finds

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

More Colorado students use school choice to opt into traditional district-run schools than use it to attend charter schools. Those who do so are more likely to be white and middle- or upper-class than their peers. And transportation continues to be a barrier for students who want to go somewhere other than their neighborhood school.

Those are the findings of a report on choice and open enrollment in the traditional public school sector put out by Ready Colorado, a conservative education reform advocacy group that supports greater access to school choice.

The report, “Open Doors, Open Districts,” looked at the roughly 49,800 Colorado students who attended school in a district other than the one in which they resided during the 2016-17 school year and another 95,600 who used school choice within the 12 largest districts in the state. Together, these 145,400 students make up roughly 16 percent of all Colorado students. Another 13 percent of state students attend charter schools.

Since 1990, the School Choice Act has allowed students to enroll in any public school they want, without paying tuition, provided there is room — and that the school provides the services that student needs, a sticking point for many students who require special education services.

The number of students using this system to attend school in another district increased 58 percent over 10 years to 49,800 in 2016. Roughly 6,000 of those students attend multi-district online schools.

The students taking advantage of inter-district open enrollment are more likely to be white than Colorado students as a whole — 58 percent are white compared with 54 percent of all students. They’re also less likely to come from low-income families (36 percent, compared with 42 percent of all students), to speak a language other than English at home (8 percent compared with 14 percent statewide), or to have a disability (8 percent compared with 11 percent).

“It is important to understand these differences so that policy leaders and educators can work to ensure that open enrollment opportunities are more accessible for all Colorado families,” the report said. “The underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latino students and English learners suggests there may be some unmet needs in Spanish-speaking communities around inter-district choice — either in information, accessibility, or appropriate services for students.”

The report highlights two major barriers to more students using school choice.

Most districts don’t have the kind of common enrollment system that Denver pioneered or that Jeffco is rolling out each year. Most districts require parents to turn in paperwork at a particular school. Not only do districts not share the same deadlines as each other, often different schools in the same district have different deadlines.

The other is transportation. 

“Time spent driving students to school can conflict with work schedules for parents, and public transit options can be scarce in many areas, making open enrollment functionally impossible for families without a transportation solution,” the report said. In one rural district, a group of parents banded together and hired their own school bus to take students to another district.

A bill sponsored last year by state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, would have addressed both issues, encouraging the creation of more consistent deadlines across the state and allowing districts to cross boundaries to provide transportation. That bill was defeated in the Democratic-controlled House after some school districts said it would set the stage for larger, wealthier districts to poach students.

The transportation provision was later added to an unrelated bill in the final days of the session, a move that led to a lawsuit in which a judicial decision is pending.

Democrats now control both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly, and it’s not clear how any attempts to expand school choice would fare. Both school choice and charter schools have enjoyed bipartisan but not universal support in Colorado.

By highlighting the prominence of traditional public schools in how Colorado students use the choice system, advocates hope to separate choice and the popular idea that parents should be able to find the school that best meets their child’s needs from the more divisive debate about charter schools, which critics see as siphoning scarce dollars from other schools while not serving all students.

The report recommends developing more consistency between and within districts, providing more information to parents, and removing barriers to transportation.

Districts with higher ratings, which are determined primarily by results on standardized tests, tend to get more students than those with lower ratings, but some districts, particularly in the Denver metro area, send and receive large numbers of students, reflecting that parents and students are making decisions at the school rather than at the district level.

Metro area districts that have struggled to raise student achievement are losing large numbers of students to other districts. A quarter of students who live in Adams 14, whose low test scores prompted a state order for external management, attended school in neighboring districts in 2016. In Westminster, which just came off a state watchlist for low-performing schools this year, that number was 29 percent.

Ready Colorado found no clear relationship between districts that spent more per student and districts that attracted more students — but districts with higher enrollment get more money from the state for each student, creating incentives to compete for students.

Read the full report here.