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Should city taxes be used to extend pre-K?

By Carolina Astrain
March 2, 2014 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 2, 2014 at 9:03 p.m.

Students Mikaelyn Villareal, 5, and Dre Allen, 4, in pre-k class at Gross Elementary follow a class lesson at the computer center table.

BY THE NUMBERS

Here's a look how the Victoria school district funds its pre-kindergarten program:

$3.1 million - Amount spent on pre-K total, including salaries and benefits for teachers and paraprofessionals, materials and supplies, as well as staff development.

•  $5,400 - Amount the school district receives from the state for Average Daily Attendance for each student. For pre-K, the state allots $2,700 per student.

•  635 - The number of students enrolled in pre-K.

•  94.5 percent - The attendance rate for pre-K students as of February. Using those numbers, the school district expects to receive an estimated $1.62 million from state funding.

•  $432,000 - Federal dollars budgeted for pre-K from Title I

•  $95,000 - Federal dollars budgeted for pre-K from IDEA

•  $527,000 - Total amount of federal dollars for pre-K.

•  $952,000 - Locally funded cost for pre-K

Source: Victoria school district

The benefits

• Research demonstrates that high-quality pre-kindergarten increases a child's chances of succeeding in school and in life. Children who attend high-quality programs are less likely to be held back a grade, less likely to need special education and more likely to graduate from high school. They also have higher earnings as adults and are less likely to become dependent on welfare or involved with law enforcement.

• In many states, today's kindergarten is yesterday's first grade. With more academics being presented in kindergarten, children must learn the pre-academic foundations for formal reading before they enter kindergarten. In pre-K, children become familiar with books, new words and ways to use language, numbers and problem-solving strategies. Eighty-eight percent of children who are poor readers in first grade will still be poor readers by fourth grade. Seventy-four percent of children who are poor readers in third grade remain poor readers when they start high school.

• Nearly half of all kindergarten teachers report that their children have problems that hinder their success. For example, 46 percent of teachers feel that at least half of the children in their classes have difficulty following directions, 36 percent feel that half the children have problems with academic skills, and 34 percent find that more than half of their children have difficulty working independently. Children unprepared for kindergarten tax the resources of the entire system. One in every six kindergartners needs specialized one-on-one tutoring or special instruction in a small group. Each year, more than 200,000 children repeat kindergarten. North Carolina spent more than $170 million for children retained in kindergarten, first, second and third grades during the 2001-02 school year.

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

About 53 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Victoria are not eligible for the school district's pre-K program.

The state provides funding for half-day pre-K, and the school district uses federal and local funds to make up for the rest, said Robert Jaklich, Victoria Independent School District superintendent.

The superintendent said he would like to see pre-K's reach extended to students whose families don't qualify for pre-K and who perhaps can't afford private school tuition.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro headed a city-funded initiative, Pre-K 4 SA, to be used by local school districts as a co-op service for early childhood education.

The project was approved by voters during the November 2012 election.

"The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child, it is whether we can afford not to," said Jaklich, quoting Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund.

Pro: Pre-K education should be priority

Con: City taxes should be kept for police, roads, other public services

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