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Do Pre-K Right

Posted on 31 January 2010

The Sag Harbor School District has spoken about establishing a pre-kindergarten program since 1998. Almost 12 years later, a Sag Harbor student’s public education career still begins with kindergarten.

We cannot consider ourselves a leading academic district without offering universal pre-kindergarten; especially in light of the fact that our district is the only one in the immediate area without such a program.

Countless studies have proven the numerous benefits of this type of early education, including increasing the rates of graduation, helping students perform better on standardized tests, decreasing the rates of crimes perpetrated by youths and reducing the number of special education students.

The school board is already aware of this data, and this understanding has no doubt inspired them to move ahead. We commend them for turning pre-kindergarten from an issue into a reality, hopefully in the near future.

However, we believe SCOPE, a not for profit educational organization that could theoretically operate and staff a pre-k program here, is incongruous with one of the main reasons for creating such a program. Pre-kindergarten is often a tale of the “haves” and “have-nots.” The students who are lucky enough to afford to attend a pre-kindergarten, which in our area can cost from $2,500 up to $17,500 annually, have a stronger academic footing when they enter the public school system. SCOPE charges $2,800 a year for their program. Without free pre-kindergarten, the educational disparity based on socio-economic gaps is apparent from the beginning. Public education is meant to provide every child with an equal opportunity to succeed, and a tuition based pre-kindergarten program fails to meet this goal. Which is why we advocate that Sag Harbor create an in-house pre-k program.

We understand funding this program in-house, which is estimated to cost $451,800 or close to two percent of last year’s budget, would take a huge bite out of the school’s financial pie. But this is an expense we believe the community is willing to swallow. If the school board decides to budget for pre-kindergarten in the 2010-2011 fiscal plan, it will almost certainly be impossible for the board to hit that sweet spot of a four percent or less increase in the school tax rate without steep and painful cuts. The board must already address the projected increases in other departments.

Throughout the past year, the board has been exploring ways to save money both in the long and short term. Pre-kindergarten programs are shown to reduce costs. The National Institute for Early Education Research reports that “for every dollar invested, the return is $7, based on the reduced costs of remedial education and justice system expenditures, and in the increased earnings and projected tax revenues for participants.” Although the initial investment is steep, a pre-kindergarten program will economically benefit the student, school and municipality in the long run.

If the board eventually decides in favor of a SCOPE model, we would recommend they conduct an analysis on the number of preschool eligible children in the district from low-income and lower middle class families. We would hope the school would establish a publicly funded scholarship account for these potential students, if this arrangement is possible. Any unused monies could be redirected into the general fund. These are the children who are most in need of a pre-kindergarten program and we hope they don’t miss out on the opportunity to benefit from early education services. If we as a community are going to finally set-up a pre-kindergarten, lets make sure we do it right.

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