DARKE COUNTY – In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to extend access to preschool to every child in America.
The idea of universal preschool, as well as expanded access to Early Head Start for ages birth through three, sounds like something everyone can benefit from, but it’s yet to be determined how it will all work out, said Shirley Hathaway, executive director of Council on Rural Services Program (CORSP).
“Certainly from our perspective, only serving about 2 percent of the eligible children in the area - we’re very excited about the prospect of serving more. I think what we’ve seen over the years, is the poverty level has escalated…When we’re only serving about 2 percent of eligible children, it says there are additional children that need it,” Hathaway stated.
President Obama proposed funding the initiative through a partnership between the states and the federal government, through a cost-sharing program to reach low- to moderate-income families, at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, as well as expanding access to middle-income families. He also calls for significant investment in Early Head Start-Child Care partnerships, using competitive grants to allow expansion, and provide high standards of quality for the care of children age birth to three.
“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind,” President Obama said during the State of the Union address.
All day preschool and kindergarten will be encouraged, as well as the expansion of home-based visits, all of which can be found in Darke County already, though in limited amounts. Through Help Me Grow, home visits are established to help ensure parents have a resource for proper development and growth for their children. Council on Rural Services also offers home visits, as well as full-day Early Head Start for ages birth through three.
“The parents are working or going to school, which provides opportunities for financial well-being in their family; [Early Head Start] provides a safe place for their children. We do medical support for children – help to see that their immunizations are on track; we also provide dental screenings, because people often think babies don’t need that. Those assessments help to find and get proper intervention for the children who need it,” said Hathaway.
Anthony Wayne Early Childhood provides preschool for children with special needs, developmental disabilities, and those students without specials needs, which entitles them to funding at both the state and federal levels, said Roxann Leeper, Early Childhood director for the Darke County Education Service Center and director of Anthony Wayne Early Childhood.
Anthony Wayne serves just over 200 children ages three to five, said Leeper, and about 25 percent of those children fall into the low- to moderate-income status, she said. The big problem with expanding preschool is providing transportation, she said, “if the children don’t have a way to get there, they can’t go.”
“I think most of the parents in the county, and the school districts, are recognizing the benefits of preschool…I really think parents would be supportive if it was affordable and transportation was provided,” Leeper commented. “In my viewpoint, it is very beneficial - at least when they start preschool at a young age, they have a lot of the social issues down-pat so they don’t have to work on that when they go into school, then they can continue to build on educational standards at the higher levels of their education…so that children have that benefit of early education, so they’re ready to tackle those major jobs they have when they go into kindergarten and on through school.”
Many Darke County districts are also offering preschool and all-day kindergarten, expansion would provide additional funding to reach more children. According to the White House, nearly 61,000 children would have the option to attend Head Start, getting them off to a better start in life and hopefully providing a strong foundation for the rest of their education.