Early Childhood

Indiana moving to offer direct aid for preschools for the first time

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A preschool class at Shepherd Community Center on Indianapolis' East side.

A last minute compromise today revived a preschool pilot, which then passed the legislature, giving Gov. Mike Pence a chance to sign into law a program that would put Indiana among 41 states that offer direct aid for preschool tuition for the first time.

Pence, who made preschool one of his top legislative priorities, is expected to sign House Bill 1004. The revised version of the bill passed the House 92-8 and the Senate passed it 40-8. For supporters of preschool, it was the foot in in the door for greater support of preschool that they’ve sought for several years.

“This is the best thing we’ve done for children, education and the impoverished in Indiana,” said Rep. Shelli Vanderburgh, D-Crown Point.

But skeptics warned that the program, while small, would likely grow and could prove costly.

Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, opposed the bill, saying it would clear the way to a wide expansion of preschool funding even before any study of its effectiveness is complete.

“This could have a catastrophic impact on the state of Indiana,” he said. “It could be a budget buster.”

The last day of the legislative session began this morning with a conference committee meeting of Democrats and Republicans from the Senate and House to sort out differences that had stalled the bill for more than a week. The key question was whether the state should start paying for poor children to attend preschool or wait until a study was undertaken.

The House version bill, with a pilot program for about 1,000 children, overwhelmingly passed but hit a road block in the Senate. Worried about costs, Republican Senators removed the pilot and replaced it with a summer study committee to examine the issue. Democrats objected to a provision in the bill that made participants automatically eligible to receive private school tuition aid under the K-12 voucher program when they completed preschool.

The compromise removed the connection to K-12 vouchers, winning Democratic support. Lawmakers also found a new funding source.

The bill would fund the preschool program from the budget of the Family and Social Services Administration by allowing the agency to keep up to $10 million Pence had ordered it to cut due to poor revenue projections so it could use that money to fund the program.

In addition, the bill now allows preschool providers or FSSA to match another $5 million in grants or private contributions. The entire program, therefore, could spend $15 million in public and private money on tuition support for children to attend preschools.

The revised bill focusing the program on poorer children. It drops the income eligibility limit for a family four to $30,289 annually, down from the prior plan to allow those with income up to $44,122. For families, tuition aid would range between $2,500 and $6,800 a year depending on income House Speaker Brian Bosma said the pilot could serve as many as 4,000. It is only limited by budget. There is no cap on the number of participants.

Other provisions in the bill:

  • It requires parental involvement.
  • It allows up to $1 million of the funding to support a study of the program’s effectiveness.
  • The pilot would operate in five counties selected by FSSA.
  • It can start as early as next fall, if FSSA can design and implement the pilot that quickly.

 

Super Search

The pressing question at Denver’s final forum: How will Susana Cordova tackle inequity?

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Susana Cordova poses for a portrait in December 2018.

The challenges that Susana Cordova will face if she’s hired next week as superintendent of the Denver school district were laid bare at a public forum Tuesday night.

Standing in a high school cafeteria with a microphone in her hand, the deputy superintendent and sole finalist for the top job faced tough questions about why struggling schools have high numbers of inexperienced teachers, whether she would commit to removing all police officers from schools, and what she would do about what one student called the “charter-ization” of Denver Public Schools — that is, the district’s practice of replacing low-performing district-run schools, sometimes with charter schools.

The most heated and emotional exchanges, however, were about inequities: Why is the district not serving black, Latino, and Native American students as well as white students? Why do test score gaps exist between students from poor families and those from wealthier ones?

Onecia Garcia, a senior at East High School, the city’s largest school and one of its most diverse, told Cordova there is a noticeable gap at East between the kids whose parents have money to pay for tutors and SAT prep courses, and the kids whose parents don’t.

“I want to know what your plan is to get that gap in order,” Garcia said.

In response to Garcia’s question and others like it, Cordova acknowledged that institutional racism exists in Denver Public Schools and has contributed to those gaps. She said the district needs to do a better job informing families about opportunities such as free SAT help and concurrent enrollment classes that allow students to earn college credit while in high school.

Cordova, who grew up in Denver and climbed the district ranks from teacher to her current position of deputy superintendent, talked about making it mandatory for all teachers to undergo training on bias and being culturally responsive, instead of allowing some to opt out.

Cordova said one of her top priorities would be to take the myriad and disparate efforts the district has started over the years to address specific inequities and combine them into one comprehensive plan. She called it “an equity plan that is for all kids, but that also has the specifics for African-American kids, for Latino kids, for low-income kids.”

“It is important that we’re not introducing too many things that you can’t keep a focus,” she said. “I think that’s a valid criticism of the work that we’ve done: We’ve introduced too many things that have made it hard to understand what is the progress that we’re trying to get at.”

But after the forum, Garcia said she didn’t feel Cordova had fully answered the questions. Other students who attended said they felt the same way.

“She wasn’t willing to commit to anything,” said Jonathan Bateman, a freshman at George Washington High School, where the forum was held.

“She answered questions like a politician,” said Carlye Raabe, also a freshman at George Washington.

Cordova emphasized that if she’s hired as superintendent, she’ll approach the job differently than her predecessor, Tom Boasberg, who stepped down in October after nearly 10 years of leading Denver Public Schools. Boasberg was often criticized for not listening to the community.

“I believe deeply in the power of relationships,” Cordova said. “I think it’s really important that we’re not just listening to people who think like I think or who sound like I sound, but who have different experiences, because Denver is an incredibly diverse place.”

The school board is expected to vote Monday on whether to appoint Cordova to the top job.

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. 

Read Chicago’s full response below.