Friday, January 2, 2009

The 4K Train Keeps A Rollin'

The 4K train has left the station folks. The cleverly titled program proposal "Sun Prairie Four Kids" will be discussed at the Monday Jan. 5 meeting of the Education & Policy committee. If they vote to forward the proposal on to the school board, that means the program will likely go to the school board for its Jan. 12 meeting. Things have to move quickly if the district wants to begin 4K with the 2009-10 school year. Applications are due July 1, which means the money must be in the school budget plans before then. Budget planning for 2009-10 begins in January/February.

At the December 22, 2008 meeting of the school board's Finance committee, the agenda informational item entitled, 2009-10 Budget Timeline, clearly stated that budgets for programs which included the "4-K Program" were due February 1st.:

The following budgets are due to the Assistant District Administrator of Instructional programs:
• District Testing
• K-12 Reading
• Staff Development
• Talented & Gifted
• Summer School
• 4 Year Old Kindergarten
• Virtual School
If you're not following with the rest of the class, that is definitive indication that the district administration plans to implement a 4K program next year.

Do you really think any school board member will vote against such a proposal? Seriously. Our school board is so in lock-step with district administration that when Tim Culver and school board president David Stackhouse lunch together, they leave only a single set of footprints.

The problem with our school board is that not a single one of the seven has sufficient spinal integrity to stand up and say, "You know what? This sounds like a nice program, but I don't think it's right for Sun Prairie". Often they'll start off by saying that they "...have some concerns..." or suggest that a certain program "...means an awful lot of money for taxpayers..." But in the end? They say something like, "I've reconsidered all the information..." and then vote for the program 7-0.

Think it doesn't happen? As an example, several school board members have OFF THE RECORD stated that in retrospect, while the land donated by Veridian was a great opportunity, perhaps the location of Creekside elementary was not in the best interests of the school district at this time. Sure! Would have been nice if these members had spoken so candidly BEFORE the school was constructed! But that's not to be. Human nature is that school board members tend to go with the administrative flow, so to speak.

What is 4-K (4-yr kindergarten)?
If you have trouble googling "4K programs", you may have better luck searching under the umbrella conceptual term of "early childhood education" or "early childhood programs". According to the DPI website, " Early childhood programs prepare youngsters to learn and to successfully transition into school. The programs provide educational and economic benefit regardless of family income, but specifically bridge the effects of poverty [emphasis added] by allowing children from economically disadvantaged families to gain a more equal footing with their peers. Reports also show that young children attending quality early education programs do better in school, and they have fewer referrals for special education. Retention rates are lower, meaning fewer students are held back a grade. Additionally, those who attend quality early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school, work, and avoid incarceration.

More from DPI: "Under the grant-funded community approach, school districts form a council or advisory group and collaborate with a Head Start, licensed group-based child care, or preschool center to provide 4K services.
"The community approach model of providing 4K services recognizes the shared responsibility for providing quality early care and education," Burmaster said. "This strategy is growing quickly from just three districts using a community approach in the 2001-02 school year to 89 this year. It makes sense for school districts to partner with their communities to provide vital 4K services to children and their families."

Does 4K really work?
The National Education Association (NEA)says that, "High quality early childhood education represents one of the best investments our country can make. NEA believes it's a common sense investment we can't afford to pass up.

Research shows that providing a high quality education for children before they turn five yields significant long-term benefits.

One well-known study, the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, ) [ The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40 (2005) study examines the lives of 123 African Americans born in poverty and at high risk of failing in school] found that individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program ultimately earned up to $2,000 more per month than those who were not. Young people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, and have longer marriages.

Who has 4K programs in Wisconsin?
According to DPI, in the 2008-09 school year 4K enrollment included 319 Districts totalling
33,976 students. A spreadsheet on the District's website shows slightly different numbers.

While statewide these numbers mean that about 75% of school districts have some level of a 4K program, Dane County --at least as of 2008-09--seems to buck that trend. As of the current school year, only 5 of 14 Dane County school districts (35%) have a 4K program.

Will more school space be needed?
In a word...maybe. You'll have to see what administration is proposing, but since preference in start-up funding is given to those districts that partner with community groups, such as child care centers, our bet is that the district will propose setting up 4K programs in existing daycare centers.

There is no minimum square foot requirement for any classroom. For safety purposes, the WDOC specifies a maximum of 20 sq.ft. per occupant of open floor space, assuming a self-contained classroom with one exit. This standard does not suggest this is the optimal room size for an education program. In considering space for educational programming, a district may look for guidance to the Head Start and child care requirement of no less than 35 square feet of usable floor space for each child.

What are the eligibility requirements?
Basically, none. As long as a child is 4 years old as of September 1 of a given school year, he/she is eligible to attend a 4K program. No pre-testing is required, and ALL eligible children must be allowed to enroll.

Are there curriculum requirements?
Yes. State statutes, 121.02(1), define subject areas that should be addressed at each grade level. For kindergarten they include:
–reading/language arts-math,
–social studies -science,
–health ed-physical ed
–art -music
–environmental ed-computer literacy

Curriculum can be integrated and developmentally appropriate and not taught by subject area alone. Such a curriculum would incorporate the concepts from the required subject areas.

Are the specials (physical education, art, and music) required?
Yes, the same as for regular kindergarten (5 yrs old):–10% of the instruction year (437 hours) for music, phy. ed., health, science and social studies. These do not need to be taught as separate subjects using a teacher driven curriculum. "Specials" should be integrated within the learning day with children working in two or more areas at a time (i.e. movement and music) using an integrated curriculum.

Are there teacher certification requirements?
Absolutely. Teachers of 4K students must hold a prekindergarten or kindergarten license (#080 prekindergarten; #090 PK-K; #083 PK-3; #100 kindergarten; #103 K-3; #086 PK-6; #106 K-6; #088 PK-8; #108 K-8; 70-777 Regular Education – Early Childhood level; 71-777 Regular Education –Early Childhood-Middle Childhood level; etc.).

Is there a requirement for teacher planning time? Yes, the same as all other teachers per local union contract.

Are there DPI-required pupil-to-student ratios?
No. Unlike SAGE, there are no state regulations directing the teacher-child ratio for 4K. Class size is a local policy determined by the school board. The DPI SUGGESTS considering practices in other programs such as:
- 1:10 with a maximum class size of 20 as defined for quality benchmarks by the National Institute on Early Education Research (NIEER);
- 1:13 with a maximum group size of 24 as required in state child care licensing regulations;
- 1:15 ratio required by the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) class size reduction program and early childhood special education inclusion models; or
-2 teachers working with groups of 16 to 20 as advised by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

How much will starting a 4-K program cost?
According to the DPI, "Districts report setting aside between $4,000 to $10,000 per room for purchasing classroom materials and equipment. The cost of co-locating [meaning partnering with an existing facility like a daycare center]) were less than costs of totally new start-up." Preference for start-up grant money is given to districts that partner with community, such as those that at least partially utilize daycare settings for the 4K program.

Of course, that doesn't include the costs associated with licensed teachers plus their benefits. Sun Prairie currently budgets about $75,000 per teacher, including salary and benefits. A new program also likely means a new $100K club member to coordinate the program. Of course it's possible that some daycare teachers are properly state licensed as certified educators, based on reports of salaries paid to daycare teachers relative to salaries of public school teachers, it would seem that any daycare teachers that are licensed to teach in public schools would probably already be doing so.

How much state aid will we get to offset the cost of starting a 4K program?
If you read the statute ( Statutes, ch. 115) it says that districts CAN receive up to $3000 per child in the 1st year and up to $1500 per child in the 2nd year as "start-up" assistance. Newsflash: CAN and will are often star-crossed lovers. First of all, the state budget for this is exactly $3M per year. That means the funds are split evenly per child of school districts applying. Note, however, that these start-up grants cease to be provided after the first two years of operation.

For the 2008-09 school year 38 districts applied to add 4K programs. They totalled 4297 kids. Divide $3M by 4297 and each district received exactly $698.16 per child to offset start-up costs. Larger districts that added 4K in 2008-09 include: West De Pere (181 kids; $ 126,367 in aid), Janesville (526 kids; $ 367,232 in aid), and Green Bay Area (1,137 kids; 6 $ 793,808 in aid). See the DPI FACTS here

That being said...the game of course would be to apply when the LEAST amount of districts (and least amount of kids) apply. THAT would give a district the best shot at seeing closer to $3,000 per child.

Is any funding available other than start-up costs?
Yes. A district received equivalent state aid funding for 4K enrolled kids very much like we receive state equalization aid for each pupil listed on the infamous "3rd Friday count".

There is a catch though. instead of 1.0 equivalent per enrolled child in grades K-12, for each enrolled child in a 4K program, the district receives either 0.5 or 0.6 "pupil equivalents" in aid as follows:

To receive 0.5 (pupil count equivalents) in membership aide, a district must operate a program a minimum of 437 hours per year (175 days X 2 1/2 hours per day). 87.5 hours (20%) of the 437 hours can be used for outreach activities for the school staff to link to the child’s primary caregivers.

To receive 0.6 (pupil count equivalents) in membership aide, a district must annually provide at least 87.5 hours of outreach activities in addition to the 437 hours of center based programming.

One more thing. The way state equalization aid funding works, pupil counts are calculated as a 3-year average. Therefore if Sun Prairie were to have say 300 kids enrolled in a 4K program on the 3rd Friday count of the 2009-10 school year, only 1/3 of these "new enrollees", or 100, would count towards funding in the 1st year. Thus, assuming no outreach beyond the total 437 instruction hours, the district would receive an additional 0.5 x 100 or 50 pupil equivalents of state aid. We receive roughly $5000 in state equalization aid per pupil. Thus we would receive about $250,000 in year one, $500,000 in year 2, and (assuming a steady 300 kids in 4K) $750,000 in the 3rd and subsequent years. These calculations will surely be "dissed" as erroneous by the school, district/board. Certainly, we may have oversimplified things, but at least we'll give you a far straighter estimate of cost than you'll get from the district or the board.

Will a referendum be required to start-up a 4K program?
No. All a school board has to do is apply to DPI, and budget for it. The public can comment during the annual budget public hearing (usually late May-June of each year) and again at the annual electors meeting in October of each year. Although arguably too late in the process, at least at the annual elector's meeting, all residents can VOTE on the amount of money to allocate to the school budget. For example, if the electors vote at the annual meeting to reduce the school district budget by the same amount as would be required to run the 4K program, arguably, the school board would then have to cut something from the budget. Other than that, all you can do to voice support/opposition is to speak up at school board meetings or contact school board members.

This sounds an awful lot like Head Start
That's because the 4K program is designed to do exactly what the federal Head Start program does.

What's next?
Believe it or not, many studies are now saying that early childhood education should begin at age 3. So a 3K program may not be far behind. We've come along way since we were kids.

For more information:
DPI- Economic impacts of a 4K program

DPI- 4yr kindergarten fact sheet

DPI- 4K Questions and Answers