Education Funding

Cities Moving At Their Own (Faster) Pace To Offer Publicly Funded Preschool

By Lillian Mongeau — November 13, 2014 4 min read
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While Washington lawmakers dither over legislation that would significantly increase federal spending on early-childhood education initiatives, many states have begun expanding and improving their own programs. But for some cities, not even the states are moving fast enough.

We’ve tracked many of these cities’ stories on the blog over the past few years, and today we bring you an update on some of the biggest and/or newest programs we’ve followed.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of cities with public preschool programs. If you know of one we haven’t listed here, we’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Chicago—Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to significantly expand the city’s decades-old Child Parent Center program by using social impact bonds was approved by the City Council Finance Committee in early November. Social impact bonds are private loans to that allow public entities to provide a service that could result in savings down the line. In this case, investors are betting that preschool will keep children out of special education programs and therefore save the city money. The city will pay back the loans with that savings at a rate some on Chicago’s City Council argued was too high, according to Hal Dardick and Juan Perez Jr. at The Chicago Tribune. Previous coverage of Chicago on Early Years.

Denver—Voters in the mile-high city recently approved and extended a sales tax increase to fund the city’s preschool program through 2026. The Denver Preschool Program offers tuition credits, essentially vouchers, to families on a sliding scale based on income. The credits are good at 250 preschools in the metro-Denver area that meet certain quality standards. Program leaders hope to use the additional revenues to expand the program to cover some 3-year-olds and reinstate summer programming, according to Yesenia Robles at The Denver Post.

Indianapolis—Republican Mayor Greg Ballard found himself in a fight this fall with the Democratically controlled city council over a $50 million plan to piggyback on new state preschool funding in Indiana and offer public preschool to hundreds more poor children in his city. (Indianapolis is likely to receive only $3 million from the state for a public preschool pilot, according to reporting by Chalkbeat Indiana.) On November 4, the two sides reached a compromise. The city now has a $40 million, five-year plan instead. Ballard said in a statement that by making preschool affordable for children from low-income families, he hopes “to make our city safer by addressing the root causes of crime and poverty.” Qualified children are expected to start attending the newly funded preschool classrooms next fall. Previous coverage of Indianapolis on Early Years.

New York City—New York City has enrolled 53,230 children in full-day kindergarten classes as of November 12, according to an annoucement by Mayor Bill de Blasio. That’s more than double the number of children served last year, and the program is expected to grow by another 20,000 children next year, according to an AP story. Despite some growing pains, New York has received a lot of positive attention for its new program in part because of its massive size and scope. For a full history of the program’s ups and downs, you can’t do better than Chalkbeat New York’s detailed coverage.

San Antonio—By raising its sales tax slightly in the sprng of 2013, San Antonio launched a $38 million public preschool program now serving 1,500 4-year-olds in its second year. EdCentral’s Conor Williams recently wrote up a glowing account of his visit to the growing program. (Williams’ account of the San Antonio program is in the second section of his piece.) Previous coverage of San Antonio on Early Years.

San Francisco—Voters authorized a 24-year renewal of San Francisco’s Preschool For All program on November 4. Funded by the city and run by the schools, Preschool For All has been helping low- and middle-income families to afford preschool through the city’s pubic schools since 2004. Right now Preschool For All serves 4,000 children at 150 school sites, according to a recent profile of the program by Deepa Fernandes at KPPC - Southern California Public Radio.

Seattle—Seattle voters approved a new tax measure to support a $58 million, 4-year pilot public preschool program this election day. The measure raises a property tax (about $43 a year for a taxpayer with a $400,000 home) to fund subsidized preschool spots for about 280 children next year. By year four, the program is meant to serve 2,000 students. The long-term goal for the program, which would require additional funding, is to serve 75 percent of all 3- and 4-year-olds (9,000 students) in the city, enough to make the program “universal.” Previous coverage of Seattle on Early Years.

As cities continue to expand and develop their own, independent preschool programs, we’ll keep covering them on the Early Years blog. Again, this is not an exhaustive list. My co-blogger, Christina Samuels, did a wrap-up of cities taking the reins in preschool expansion in January that covers a few not mentioned here. Do you know about other city programs we should look into? Note them in the comments section!

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.