Update as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday Feb. 14: A vote on the Collaboration's program will come at the Feb. 28 meeting, school board president Terry Finnegan said. He noted that no one is against the concept; it's a smart investment. The issue at hand is the eligibility of using funds from the high school district for this purpose.
President Barack Obama’s ringing endorsement of universal preschool during his State of the Union Address couldn’t come at a more opportune time for advocates in Oak Park and Forest Park.
“It’s great that he put that at the forefront of the national conversation. The data is so clear that this is an issue that can and should receive support across the spectrum. This should be something that everybody can get behind,” said Carollina Song, board chair of the Collaboration for Early Childhood, an Oak Park organization that leverages and integrates community resources to better meet the needs of the youngsters and their families.
That’s the hope of officials and supporters of the Collaboration as they wait to hear if the agency can make its programs available to children from birth to age 5 and their families.
The one group that might be an obstacle to that is Oak Park River Forest High School District 200, which joined with five other jurisdictions to establish the the Collaboration in 2002.
Now the school board has to decide if it wants to provide funding to expand the group's services, as the village of Oak Park and Elementary District 97 already have committed to doing.
The proposal will be discussed during the Feb. 19 finance committee meeting. Committee meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 Scoville Ave.
A vote could come at the Feb. 28 board meeting, but it’s not yet slated for that agenda.
No one is certain at this point if the Oak Park River Forest school board will endorse it.
Except for hearing and vision screening, the Collaboration does not provide any direct services. Song said the group is a resource for continuing education for preschool teachers and administrators and works with providers to make sure facilities and programs meet standards for quality. The agency also does outreach to families to make sure that they are aware of community resources. Oak Park and River Forest preschool programs work with the agency, Song said.
Public and private funding helps pay for this work.
But with research shows that quality preschool is a measurable method of closing the achievement gap, a long-time concern in Oak Park schools at all levels. The gap can become measurable in children as young as 18 months and can be statistically significant by age 5. Song said that is why her group needs to provide all the support it can to make sure their children get a good start in life.
If expanded, the agency will provide similar services to parents and their children ages 0-3; it will be phased in over three years. Plenty of accountability will be provided, and data will be collected to assess if the program is making an impact, Song said.
Estimated funding in 2014 will be $171,695 from the village, $248,003 from District 97 and $216,208 from District 200. That amount would be less than 1 percent of each jurisdiction’s operating budget. Districts' share would come from their education fund, which covers teacher salaries and benefits, textbooks, supplies and other education-related expenses.
This investment will go a long way toward bettering the lives of children, she said.
“What they need to have is the best chances for success,” she said. “It would benefit all of us down the line.”
As envisioned by the district, the program would include some core academic skills, such as recognition of letters and numbers, what they mean and sound like. An early development of reading skills also will be included.
Jamie Stauder, principal at Garfield School where the program will be housed, said youngsters would also get to explore the community and the world around them, allowing them to stretch their curiosity.
Creative play also will be included.
Efforts to reach an official with the district were unsuccessful.
Here’s what the President said about early childhood:
But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.
And that has to start at the earliest possible age. You know, study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.
So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.
That’s something we should be able to do.