LA Unified is rebuilding early-childhood education programs that were nearly decimated throughout the bleak recession years, investing an additional $30 million through 2016-2017.
In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the school board agreed to create a pathway for returning funding for the district’s three to four-year-olds, to levels not seen since 2007. By 2012 the budget had been severely reduced with the entire program facing extinction.
The resolution, crafted by board member Bennett Kayser, allocates more than $4.5 million in the current school year to open more slots for students and possibly re-open a handful of shuttered school sites. Another $14 million will be restored in 2015-2016 and $20 million in 2016-2017.
“Funding early education is a proven ‘reform’ that pays direct dividends to our children and community,” Kayser told LA School Report. “Investing on the front-end is always better than trying to do remedial efforts later. I want to thank the LAUSD employees who took furlough days to save the early education program a few years ago. With my motion, we have at best restored funding to 2007-2008 levels; we still need so much more investment early education.”
But Tamar Galatzan, who cast the lone dissenting vote, worries that the money is not guaranteed and the shape of the program is undefined.
“With this resolution, we’ve committed to spend $14 million next year and $20 million more the year after that on early-childhood education without knowing what programs are the most effective or whether those are appropriate amounts to achieve our goals,” she told LA School Report. “We’re counting on this money to come from the feds and the state through competitive grants, so there’s no certainty that we’ll actually get it. If we don’t, we’ll have to pull that money from other programs. Those are going to be difficult decisions to make.”
Educators agree that children in low-income households, who are least likely to attend early education programs, lose ground to their middle class peers by kindergarten. Studies show that gap only widens as they advance through elementary school and can have an effect well into adulthood.
Kayser’s plan also directs the district’s Early Education Division to use the current school year to identify and prioritize early education sites that would most benefit from additional resources once the additional disbursements kick in.
Early education programs at elementary schools with low third grade reading scores that are farthest from an existing early education site will jump to the top of the list for funding along with elementary school with high-concentrations of English Learners and children in foster care. Also, schools with persistent wait lists and located in distressed neighborhoods will get access to resources sooner.
“This is a ground-breaking moment because LAUSD’s resolution represents the largest single investment by a school district in early education in the last decade, as well as the first large-scale investment in early education that includes Local Control Funding Formula dollars,” Kim Patillo Bronson, Director of Educational Equity for the Advancement Project, said in a statement released by the district. “We believe that the achievement gap is a preventable tragedy. We commend LAUSD and Board member Kayser for their bold leadership in investing in a proven prevention strategy: high quality early education.”
*Adds comment from Kim Patillo Bronson