Report Recommends Expanding Preschool in Flagstaff
FLAGSTAFF, AZ (February 8, 2019)
When her son Demitrius was 3 years old, Kate Maragos felt guilty. As a mom of three, a Sunday school teacher, a volunteer and a long-term placement foster mom, Maragos was stretched thin.
“Honestly I didn’t have much left in me to do educational things with the kids, especially Demitrius,” Maragos said.
She knew how critical it is to nurture learning and healthy development during the early years, but a quality preschool for Demitrius was out of reach. Maragos is not alone.
A report released today by LAUNCH Flagstaff shows that only forty-five percent of Flagstaff area 3- and 4-year old children are enrolled in early childhood programming.
“We couldn’t accommodate all of the non-enrolled students anyway,” said Paul Kulpinski, Partnership Director of LAUNCH Flagstaff. “That’s because there are nearly three children for each space of existing capacity in the Flagstaff area.”
The LAUNCH Flagstaff report seeks to begin a community conversation on piloting a collectively funded project that will provide high-quality, full-day, year-round preschool to four-year-old children in households with income between 130% and 200% of the federal poverty level.
The lack of equitable access to high-quality preschool is particularly problematic for children of low-income families. A U.S. Department of Education statistic, cited in the report, shows that children of low-income families enter kindergarten, on average, fourteen months behind their peers in pre-literacy skills.
“Children who begin school behind generally stay behind,” said Risha VanderWey, Coconino County’s Superintendent of Schools. “High-quality early childhood education can improve kindergarten readiness academically and socially.”
Currently, about half of all five-year-old children in Flagstaff are not reaching reading benchmarks compared to national norms. According to the report, the kindergarten students who did not attend preschool scored significantly lower on pre-literacy benchmarks than their peers who did attend preschool.
According to Kulpinski, local statistics were important factors in the recommendations made in the report.
“When you consider the high cost of living in Flagstaff and the increasing local minimum wage, many families no longer qualify for some preschool subsidies and still can’t afford the tuition at private, tuition-based preschools,” said Kulpinski. “The children falling through this gap are the ones the report seeks to address.”
Dr. Daniel Kain, Professor in the College of Education at Northern Arizona University agrees.
“This preschool expansion proposal from LAUNCH Flagstaff promises to fill a gap that has too many students starting school already behind. We can do better, and here is a solid start,” says Dr. Kain.
The report estimates that an expanded preschool program would attract about 90 children who would qualify for the program. While the report illustrates one model for adding new preschool capacity, it also recommends expanding existing subsidized programs where possible.
The estimated community investment in the proposed expansion, once fully operational, would run about $850,000 per year, according the report. The return on this investment is estimated to reach of up to sixteen dollars per dollar invested.
“If our community is serious about providing a world-class education, it is essential that we invest in better preparation for our youngest citizens,” says Dr. Kain.
It is children like Demitrius, who would be the focus of this preschool expansion. Kate Maragos was lucky to receive financial assistance and enrolled Demitrius in a high-quality preschool.
“One day I heard him singing his alphabet song while he was washing his hands,” Maragos said. “I was amazed he learned his letters, shapes, colors, months and days of the week, all before kindergarten. And he was coming home happy and singing!”
It encouraged Maragos to do more at home, including read, play, and most of all listen and talk with Demitrius. “The more you can get in from an earlier age, the more prepared they will be when they get to school. And it will benefit your child exponentially for the rest of their life,” she said.
“Now Demitrius is one of the top students in his kindergarten class!” Maragos said.