Half of eligible students ready for school

by Don Heinzman
ECM Publishers
With limited funds, 12 percent (278) of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds are taking early public school readiness programs in School District 728.
Data shows that half of the pre-schoolers in Minnesota are ready for kindergarten, and it’s estimated that half the eligible students are ready for kindergarten in the district.
Charlie Blesener, director of Community Education and Early Childhood Education, says more children could be involved in the district’s pre-school learning programs if there were more dollars.
He and his staff explained the numbers and the quality of the early childhood programs to members of the Elk River Citizens League recently.
This year 278 youngsters are taught school readiness lessons, using $122,000 of state funds. Another $131,000 in user fees supports the program. The program is getting good results at a cost of less than $900 per child, said Blesener, which is less than a sixth of the weighted daily average for educating a K–12 student.
Blesener said that dividing the state aid by the 2,000 3- and 4-year-old youngsters in the district amounts to $61 a child. Parents pay fees, based on a sliding scale and a tuition of $1,400.
Based on the state’s needs for revenues, it’s unlikely District 728 will receive any additional school readiness dollars.
Blesener believes the district does a good job with the limited funds. The private sector represents 80 percent of the providers, according to one study.
He added that the curriculum has good content, the staff works well as a team and there are “phenomenal achievement results.”
Speaking at the forum, Kathy Simonson, manager of Early Childhood Family Education, said results consistently show that high quality early childhood programs help kids enter kindergarten with the skills they need to learn. Those children continue to be successful in school and ultimately become contributing members of society.
All totaled, the state allots $10,095,000 for school readiness.
In District 728, 50 percent of families pay no fee and there is a sliding fee based on income guidelines.
The state has a goal to have all children kindergarten ready by 2020, Simonson said.
In addition to the readiness program, District 728 has an Early Childhood Family Education program which last year involved 2,171 parents, 2,088 children and 465 home visits, all totaling 4,500 hours of service.
At the age of 3 years, youngsters are screened in a state-funded program. Some of them receive early childhood special education. The district provides special education for 324 students with special needs, said Cindy Wagner, coordinator of Early Childhood Special Education.
An Early Childhood Initiative Coalition has been organized in the district. It meets the third Wednesday of each month when key stakeholders share their knowledge.

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