Committee says $10 million expansion of pre-kindergarten program worth the money

Michelle Stuckey
September 02, 2010 at 3:36 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

The St. Charles Parish School Board Finance Committee recently discussed the feasibility of expanding the parish’s current pre-kindergarten program to include every 4-year-old in the parish.

Members argued that despite the $10 million price tag on such an expansion, it would be worth the money, even if it only helped one student.

“Even one kid is significant,” said Sonny Savoie, board member.

But local day care centers could suffer from such an expansion.

Amy Knuppel, owner of Four Star Day Care in Paradis, said that it would definitely impact her business.

“That would be a whole teacher and two employees we would have to let go,” Knuppel said. “That would be the majority of our income for that age group.”

But Rachel Allemand, assistant superintendent, said that expanding the public 4-year-old program could create an opportunity for day care centers.

“This could reduce enrollment of 4-year-olds in private day care centers and allow these facilities to focus on meeting the needs of younger children,” Allemand said.

The district’s current 4-year-old program is part of Head Start, a program that has been around since the 1970s. About 340 4-year-olds, or about 50 percent from the parish, are currently enrolled based on financial need.

In order to offer pre-school services to all 4-year-olds, the district estimated it would need to offer a universal program to approximately 340 more children, for a total of 680.

However, the district only has 15 of the 34 classrooms that would be needed to accommodate that many students in the designated attendance area. Construction and major purchases to house an additional 340 students would cost about $6.9 million.

Besides the one-time costs, annual operating expenses for 680 students, for items such as teacher salaries, would total about $3.3 million.

After seeing the huge cost estimate, members encouraged the administration to come up with an “innovative” way to phase in a universal 4-year-old program in coming years.

“It is very easy for us to look at the price tag…and say that it costs too much money,” said board member John Smith. “But let’s start thinking innovatively about a way that we can, in fact, serve additional 4-year-olds in the district…there is another side of cost and that is cost-benefit.
“The benefit we would get from this is worth it.”

“National studies indicate that if you have quality preschool programs, that they’re beneficial to all children,” said Sylvia Zeno, director of the Head Start program. “In the short-term, students learn concepts and skills needed to be ready for kindergarten. In the long-term, students who participate in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school.”

Allemand said studies have shown that for every dollar invested in preschool programs, as much as $13 is saved in public education, criminal justice and welfare costs.
Knuppel said she hoped that St. Charles would follow the example of other parishes that work together with local day care centers to provide educational opportunities to 4-year-olds. Knuppel said she has spoken to the school district about creating such a partnership, but that the board was not interested because it would be unfair to the day care businesses that were not chosen to participate with the schools.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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