Early Childhood

Panel: Partnerships, big and small, are key to preschool progress in Indianapolis

Despite a strong new push to expand preschool in Indianapolis, the only way a large number of children can arrive for kindergarten better prepared is if schools, policymakers, families, communities, businesses and many others work together, local experts said today.

Preschool educators and policymakers gathered today at Butler University to talk about the future of preschool in Indianapolis at an event hosted by Chalkbeat in partnership with WFYI public media and Butler’s College of Education and sponsored by Kroger. Panelists included Indianapolis’ Deputy Mayor for Education Jason Kloth; Ted Maple, president of Early Learning Indiana; Ena Shelley, dean of Butler University’s College of Education; and Shalonda Murray, director of the Flanner House Child Development Center.

Some of the most promising or effective methods of serving young children are partnerships, they said.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s $40 million, five-year public-private preschool program, which earned final City Council approval last month, is an example. Smaller partnerships also are making a difference, such as those between Butler’s lab preschool at Indianapolis Public School 60, or a new partnership between Early Learning Indiana and two local charter schools.

“I think partnerships like that are a lot of what our programs are based on,” Maple said. “And I think it’s working. There are shared costs, there are shared goals, there are shared kids. Partnerships only work if it’s not one-sided, and there’s certainly benefits to both, and we want to see more partnerships like that.”

But partnerships aren’t only about managing costs. They also are about building trust with families, Murray said.

“Providers have to take in all of those different facets of the neighborhood and the community,” Murray said. “We are looking at teacher compensation, family engagement, community engagement and also engaging other community programs for the families that will eventually benefit the child as well.”

Only preschool providers who have earned a level three or level four quality rating from the state can qualify for Ballard’s program or a new state pilot program, both of which provide aid to poor children to pay for preschool. Those higher ratings mean the programs are both safe environments for children and provide academic lessons.

Between the city and state, about $55 million will be funneled into Indianapolis preschools over the next five years, Kloth said, but until more preschools earn the higher ratings, there won’t be enough space for the children to attend qualifying programs. Of about 800 preschools in the city, only about 53 are level three or level four.

“One of the primary intentions of our programs is not only to get children and families into these schools, but it’s over that five-year window to change the supply of level three and four programs in the market,” Kloth said. “So when the state does expand it, there’s a supply of providers to take those resources. I’m not sure the market could take more.”

But a big barrier to better preschools is finding enough quality teachers  Shelley said the low wages for preschool teachers are in stark contrast to the certifications required to become a preschool teacher.

The state requires students seeking a license to teach preschool to take a total of 12 tests in various content areas and child development — more than an elementary school teacher is required to do, she said. That costs hundreds of dollars, Shelley said.

“You can’t ask students to pay what is expected of tuition and then go out and make minimum wage,” she said. “We have people who want to do the work, but the salary has to be such that they can do the work.”

Murray and Maple said they’ve encountered many potential teachers who are educated and have innovative ideas and enthusiasm, but they don’t have the required background in teaching. That either means programs have to train their employees, or the state should consider other pathways to a license.

“We are looking at people with the education, but not necessarily the experience,” Murray said. “So we are trying to recruit individuals who have the education as well as the experience, but at the same time, these individuals want to make a livable wage.”

And as far as funding, Murray argued that the state faces a difficult trade off: it can fund preschool now, or pay later for the long-term costs of children who continue in poverty as adults.

“A lot of these children that we are focusing on are in poverty now, and if we don’t make an impact now, they will be in poverty later as well,” she said.

State and city programs are already underway. Earlier this week, Gov. Mike Pence announced the state’s new preschool pilot would grow by about 600 more seats this fall. The city’s serves about 1,000 students. What will move things forward, Maple said, is more collaboration.

“I think what we really need to be working toward (is building) a cohesive system between schools, the community base, providers and others that really creates an early childhood system that’s worthy of investment from families and from parents,” he said. “One that is really high-quality and has enough seats to serve the kids in Indiana.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.

Enter to win

Denver organization to launch national prize for early childhood innovation

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

A Denver-based investment group will soon launch a national contest meant to help scale up great ideas in the early childhood field — specifically efforts focused on children birth to 3 years old.

Gary Community Investments announced its Early Childhood Innovation Prize on Wednesday morning at a conference in San Francisco. It’s sort of like the television show “Shark Tank,” but without the TV cameras, celebrity judges and nail-biting live pitch.

The contest will divvy up $1 million in prize money to at least three winners, one at the beginning stages of concept development, one at a mid-level stage and one at an advanced stage. Gary officials say there could be more than one winner in each category.

The contest will officially launch Oct. 25, with submissions due Feb. 15 and winners announced in May. (Gary Community Investments, through the Piton Foundation, is a Chalkbeat funder.)

Officials at Gary Community Investments, founded by oilman Sam Gary, say the contest will help the organization focus on finding solutions that address trouble spots in the early childhood arena.

The birth-to-3 zone is one such spot. While it’s an especially critical time for children because of the amount of brain development that occurs during that time, it’s often overshadowed by efforts targeting 4- or 5-year-olds.

Steffanie Clothier, Gary’s child development investment director, said leaders there decided on a monetary challenge after talking with a number of other organizations that offer prizes for innovative ideas or projects.

One foundation they consulted described lackluster responses to routine grant programs, but lots of enthusiasm for contests with financial stakes, she said.

“There’s some galvanizing opportunity to a prize,” she said.

But Gary’s new prize isn’t solely about giving away money to create or expand promising programs. It will also include an online networking platform meant to connect applicants with mentors, partners or investors.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make it not just about the winners,” Clothier said.