Suburban districts get funding boost for preschool programs
Elgin Area School District U-46 and Hampshire-based Community Unit District 300 are among 26 statewide recipients of $80 million in federal funding for early childhood education programs.
More than $226 million in Preschool Development Grants was awarded to schools in 18 states. The grants will serve more than 33,000 children nationwide.
Addison District 4, West Aurora District 129, Indian Prairie District 204, West Chicago District 33 and Wheaton-Warrenville Unit District 200 are among the suburban recipients.
U-46 applied for nearly $2.4 million per year for four years through the competitive grant process, said Peggy Ondera, U-46 director of early learner initiatives.
"The money is going to go to provide 200 additional spots for four-year-old high needs students and they will be provided a full-day program," Ondera said.
The district now provides only half-day programs for roughly 1,500 preschool students at 12 sites.
"Part of this application that we wrote was to provide two-way transportation for students, which right now we are not able to provide for all students," Ondera said. "We find that for some families, that is a hardship. We provide one-way transportation for many of our students."
Ondera said the Elgin area particularly is underserved and has a high at-risk population of preschool-age children.
"Currently, only about a third of kindergarten students that come in have come through U-46 preschool programming," Ondera said.
This is the first year the grant has been available.
The program is designed to increase access to education for 4-year-old children from families below 200 percent of the poverty level (earning about $47,700 yearly for a family of four). Illinois will receive $20 million yearly for four years through the program to help build, develop and expand high-quality preschool programs for low- to moderate-income families.
"Providing high-quality early childhood education is a game changer for our economy," Gov. Pat Quinn said during a recent news conference. "While Illinois currently leads the nation in the number of 3-year-olds in preschool, we have much more work to do. This major investment in Illinois' littlest will have a big impact in many of our communities. Every child, no matter where they live, deserves the opportunity to succeed in life."
Grant recipients were selected based on a variety of criteria, including the number of children with high educational needs; lack of existing publicly-funded programs for preschoolers; capacity to link these new programs to a continuum of early education services; partnerships between community-based organizations and school districts; and readiness to open new classrooms by August 2015.
District 300 is expecting to receive $890,000 in funding, which will allow it to add eight full-day preschool classrooms, serving an additional 160 students across four schools. The district has 793 students enrolled in preschool.
"District 300's pursuit and achievement of the Preschool Development Grant demonstrates our commitment to early childhood education as a pathway to college and career success," Superintendent Fred Heid said. "In addition to providing 160 additional students with the tools they need to flourish in the classroom, our local community members struggling to find day care will now have access to a safe, effective, and educational program that positions their child with a great opportunity to succeed."
Classes provided through the grant funding will be offered in District 300's Title I centers in Carpentersville: Golfview, Meadowdale and Perry elementary schools, and the deLacey Family Education Center. The grant also provides funding for extended-day kindergarten for all students served.
"Some of the most important work we do as educators is with our preschool and kindergarten students," said Michael Williamson, District 300 teachers union president. "On a daily basis, District 300 teachers lay the groundwork for students' future successes. This grant offers us the truly wonderful opportunity to expand those programs."