With state funding stuck, and children not getting access to the state's free preschool system in schools, communities are going DIY on preschool and making sure that children whose parents are working and in childcare or who can't access a preschool programme are getting the preparation they need as 4 year-olds for school.
As children ran to the truck, Ready For School volunteers pulling red wagons offered bilingual Clifford the Red Dog books and fliers promoting early childhood education. Michigan, October - On a warm summer evening, an ice cream truck moved slowly through a blue collar neighbourhood of Holland, offering free ice cream -- and free preschool.
Business, political, education and church leaders across the state, though, are banding together to find creative ways to provide preschool for Michigan’s 4-year-olds shut out of state-funded classrooms.
"These are families who want to be served, but there’s no room," said Sandra Standish, executive director of Kalamazoo County Ready 4s. "I don’t see anything we’re doing in education right now that can have this level of impact on kids."
Almost 30,000 children who are eligible for the state’s free preschool (called the Great Start Readiness Programme) aren't in class, because of inadequate funding, logistical hurdles and inefficient co-ordination of services. While advocates are pushing for increased state funding, some communities are beginning to attack the problem on their own.
"We’re not trying to duplicate programmes," Standish said. "Our goal is to get as many children in high-quality programmes as possible."
The business community also is heavily involved, viewing early childhood as a long-term economic engine. "We presented this as an economic initiative, not a social service," said Kathy Jones of PNC Bank. "Clearly there are 4-year-olds unprepared for kindergarten, and the numbers are growing."
Children in families making under $US50,000 attend preschool tuition-free through Ready 4s; those making more pay on a sliding scale.
Children enrolled in preschool through Ready 4s attend classes at private providers, such as Learning Village in Kalamazoo. That childcare centre has blended classrooms of children who are part of Great Start, Ready 4s and strictly tuition.
"Public schools don’t have the capacity to handle all the 4-year-olds," Standish said.
One thing the community learned early is that private providers couldn’t survive on the $US3400 provided by the state for preschool. Ready 4s provides $US1,100 a year more per student than the state provides for GSRP students for the exact same programme.
"There’s no way we could provide this (preschool) for $US3,400," said Learning Village Executive Director Ann Brown.
"We have so many children who are just above the poverty line (whose) parents are working, and they’re thinking about childcare, and not necessarily about preschool," Standish said. "Then we have a large portion of families who don’t think about education until it’s time to start kindergarten. We want to make sure to make them aware."
For more, visit Mlive.com.