The city will contribute half that amount — $25 million in tax dollars — to efforts both to pay tuition for children who cannot afford to attend highly-rated preschools and to help more preschools reach a high quality rating.
The new push from the city aims to transform the city’s lagging preschool offerings — less than one in six of 800 licensed centers meet the state’s highest quality standards — and put 1,300 more children in formal learning programs before kindergarten.
Separately, Ballard’s office will support a study of factors that push kids out of school: expulsion, suspension and dropouts. Experts say serious trouble in school is often a warning sign that children could face legal trouble and other problems later in life.
Ballard’s plan would expand preschool in 2015-16 just as a new statewide pilot program, also aimed at paying tuition for poor children to attend preschool, is scheduled to begin.
That program was created by the legislature in March, but only after it was revived by a push from Gov. Mike Pence after some lawmakers sought to shelve it. The state program offers $10 million preschool tuition support for about 1,000 children in five counties, including Marion County. When the program launches it will remove Indiana from a list of just 10 states that currently offer no direct state aid to help poor children attend preschool.
At the same time, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is rapidly expanding the district’s preschool offerings for four year olds. Ferebee has said he hopes to make the program available to all IPS four year olds in no more than five years.
The Your Life Matters task force, named in June to connect community groups with troubled youth, will lead the study, examining questions such as why some schools have higher rates of serious discipline or dropouts, how children who misbehave can be kept in school and why disparities exist among schools and between racial groups.
The goal is for the task force to present findings to a legislative study committee that will meet later this year to explore whether there is a need for changes in state law on student discipline.
In March, federal education data showed a huge number of Indiana’s black boys — more than one in four statewide — were suspended in the 2011-12 school year, second only to Wisconsin nationally. By comparison, 11 percent of Latino boys and 9 percent of white boys were suspended that year.
Last year’s 146 murders in the city were an eight-year high and 2014 is on about the same pace. The victims include police officer Perry Renn, who was killed earlier this month.
Indiana's 2019 legislative session
Indiana faces a tight budget in 2019, lawmakers say. Will expanding pre-K be in the cards?
- 10 hours ago
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Preschool and kindergarten students at George Washington Carver School 87, a magnet Montessori school in Indianapolis Public Schools.
Nearly every time the state prepares to craft a new two-year budget plan, Indiana lawmakers warn it will be difficult to balance different funding priorities. But 2019 could be especially tough, they say, since the bulk of new revenue could already be earmarked to assist children affected by the opioid crisis.
Extra resources for preschool and teacher raises are among the areas competing for the remaining funds.
“This is going to be a puzzle that we’re going to have to solve together,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma at a panel discussion hosted by the Indiana Chamber on Monday.
Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis, said the state anticipates about $325 million to $350 million in new revenue for the next two-year budget cycle, which begins in 2019. But, he said, $275 million could potentially be earmarked for the Department of Child Services to help stem its growing caseload and staffing needs in light of Indiana’s opioid crisis.
That leaves little for new projects, such as raising teacher salaries or improving school safety resources, or expansion of existing ones, such as preschool. Half the state’s budget is generally set aside to fund schools and districts, parceled out based on a formula that factors in a school’s demographics, special education needs, and more. For the past few budgets, lawmakers have given modest increases to schools, around 2 percent.
But that doesn’t include preschool, which is funded separately as a line item. Bosma on Monday expressed some uncertainty that the program can be expanded in the way pre-K advocates have called for — requests that have ranged from adding more counties to pushing it statewide. Known as On My Way Pre-K, the program so far has cost $22 million per year and is available in 20 counties. Currently, about 4,000 4-year-olds from low-income families use grants from the program to attend a high-quality pre-K provider of their choice.
“I’m very open to expanding it, as long as the focus is on the people who can’t afford the programs themselves,” Bosma said. “The problem is, this is going to be a more difficult budget year than many are aware of … expanding the program right now might be difficult.”
Republican and Democrat leaders, from the House and Senate, said Monday that they supported an expansion of the state’s preschool program. It’s an issue that has seen broad bipartisan support, with lawmakers approving an increase in 2017.
In the past, lawmakers have been skeptical about how much to spend on the pre-K pilot program, but each year has seen incremental increases in funding, with the number of counties quadrupling since its start.
Bosma suggested the state might have to look to other funding sources, such as ones at the federal level.
Earlier this year, Indiana applied for a federal Preschool Development Grant, which can be used to conduct a statewide needs assessment and coordinate existing federal, state, and local programs that serve children from birth to age 5, according to the grant description. Up to 40 states and territories will receive awards between $500,000 and $10 million, which are expected mid-December.
Lawmakers have also been in talks about how money could be set aside for raises for teachers and other educators. But it’s unclear how much of a pay hike is on the table or how the dollars would get from the state to teacher paychecks. Bosma said there’d be more details later this week and when lawmakers come back for session to begin in January.
Four major providers of Head Start programs in Detroit must re-apply for funding after losing their federal grants this year, throwing the future of dozens of classrooms in doubt for the fall.
One of the four providers was forced to re-compete for funding after leaving a 3-year-old outside in freezing winter weather and putting children in unsafe classrooms. The other three were ranked poorly in a federal performance review that scores how students and teachers interact.
Since then, the program had expanded, but providers are still struggling to create enough programs to use all of the 5,200 Head Start seats the federal government would fund. As of last spring, 260 seats were going unused, according to Patrick Fisher, spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families, the federal organization that oversees Head Start.
Thousands of Detroit families rely on these programs for free childcare and meals for ages 0 to 5. Head Start is especially important for low-income families struggling with the skyrocketing cost of childcare. Despite the longstanding issues, these Head Start facilities are many families’ only option for affordable quality early childhood education. Studies on Head Start show the program can influence everything from whether kids succeed in school, to whether they become smokers as adults.
The prospect that programs could be closed or moved if current providers are not able to win new grants has been unsettling to families who might not be able to bring their children to a school that’s farther away.
“It would definitely be a disruption because I would have to travel, and a lot of us don’t have the means to travel,” said Monika Chester, the mother of three children who attend Head Start at the Samaritan Center on Detroit’s east side. “A lot of us are walking, taking the bus, getting a cab, even in the winter, and my baby is five months old.”
“But the worst thing would be for my babies to adapt to new teachers,” she said. “That’s the worst. That’s really bad.”
The four providers that must recompete — Matrix, Starfish Family Services, New St. Paul Tabernacle Head Start Agency Inc., and Metropolitan Children and Youth, Inc. — must divert attention from running facilities to competing for the federal money that allows them to run the programs.
The process to reapply for one of the five-year grants is significantly easier if providers have no issues with their federal scores, providers say. Meanwhile, providers who score below passing on the federal examinations or have other issues are forced to undergo a multistep process that can take several people a month or longer to complete.
Ann Kalass, whose Starfish Family Services leads the coordination of a large Head Start collaborative called Thrive by Five Detroit, said her biggest concern is how reapplying affects the children and families in the program, rather than the time it takes for staff to reapply.
“What I worry about is that it creates a disruption and they leave our programs in May and June not knowing who to count on in the fall,” said Ann Kalass, who runs Starfish Family Services.
“There is a lot of work going on among many providers to submit quality plans and applications in mid-January, so yes, it’s definitely taking resources for us to do that,” Kalass said. “But from my perspective, we do this work all the time — we’re always competing for grants and new opportunities, so it’s people spending time on writing grants who might otherwise be thinking about the program strategy and implementation.
“The real concern for me at a system level is that we’re trying to rebuild and reinvest and it feels like taking a step back to move a step forward,” she added.
The federal auditors grade facilities in three categories: emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. Providers are compared against one another nationally, and the lowest scoring 10 percent must automatically rebid for the federal money that pays for the program.
In the category of classroom organization, Matrix, Starfish, and New St. Paul all scored in the bottom 10 percent range nationally.
Kalass said teacher turnover played a role in why the scores were so low in that category.
“Classroom organization looks at the routines and the structures of learning in the classroom,” Kalass said. “It talks about routines in the classrooms, the overall management of what’s happening in the classroom, and we have a high level of teacher turnover in the city, and some of the highest rates of teacher turnover in the country.”
The median salary for a preschool teacher who works full-time in Michigan is less than $30,000 a year, according to one study, making it hard to retain teachers. A report from the Kresge and Kellogg foundations pointed to the shortage of qualified preschool teachers as one of the challenges to improving early education in Detroit.
The next category, instructional support — how children are taught — “involves how teachers promote children’s thinking and problem solving, use feedback to deepen understanding, and help children develop more complex language skills,” according to a guide to understanding the scoring metrics.
Nationwide, providers struggle to meet the federal standards for this category. The passing score has a low threshold — it is only about 2.31 out of seven. In Detroit, all three providers had low scores, but New St. Paul fell below the threshold for passing in that category.
In the emotional support category, all of the providers in Detroit scored above the minimum. This area measures how teachers “help children resolve problems, redirect challenging behavior, and support positive peer relationships.”
Providers in Detroit support the change. They believe comparing the city with providers outside of the area isn’t right. Last year, 32 percent of grantees nationwide had to recompete for grants. In Detroit, that number is higher as providers struggle with crumbling buildings, high teacher turnover, and a Head Start program that has endured years of turmoil.
But the other issues submitted to the federal office by the facilities themselves are harder to debate.
At the Samaritan Center, a Matrix facility on the east side near Chandler Park, on Jan. 8, 2018, a teacher was terminated after kicking a 2-year-old who fell asleep in a chair, according to the federal report released in February. The Samaritan Center had another violation in October of last year, when a 3-year-old was told to walk back to class unsupervised and was later found by personnel “alone, lying on the floor in a classroom crying,” according to a May report. The teacher was terminated.
The Eternal Rock Center, another Matrix facility located in Southwest Detroit, was given a violation after a 4-year-old was left in a classroom unsupervised for a short time in January. The teacher was terminated in this case as well.
Matrix Family Services declined a phone interview to speak on the low facility scores, rebidding for contracts, and the offsite reports from this year.
A report on the Metropolitan Children and Youth, Inc.’s facility was enough to trigger the contract rebid process. In winter of 2014, at the Harper/Gratiot Center on Detroit’s east side, a 3-year-old was left outside on a playground and later found by a parent crying and knocking on the door of the building. Neither the center’s investigation nor a review by the federal office was able to determine how long the child was outside in freezing temperatures.
Only Metropolitan Children and Youth is forced to rebid because of the offsite reports.
“Reviewers examine documentation sent by the grantee to identify program strengths or weaknesses, deficiencies, or that an issue has been remediated,” said Patrick Fisher, a spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families, the federal office that oversees Head Start.
A transition occurred last year after Southwest Solutions abruptly shuttered 11 Head Start centers. Luckily for the 420 children affected, Starfish Family Services was able to transition the children and many of the teachers to other agencies, allowing many to remain in their existing facilities.
There’s no guarantee that relocation of families could happen so smoothly in the future, but the Detroit providers are keeping lines of communication open.
“I think there are a lot of encouraging signs for early childhood programing in Detroit,” Kalass said. “Providers are meeting monthly to problem solve together — around workforce, facilities, and about better connecting with families.”
“We’re in a place of rebuilding and I’m optimistic that we won’t see a situation like this again. We won’t be in this place a few years from now.”
Scroll down to read some of the reports that led to one Head Start agency being asked to reapply for funding.