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April 07, 2009

Taking Action

Last May, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously passed the Pre-K Enhancment and Expansion Act of 2008, which laid the foundation for a voluntary, high-quality pre-k program that would make pre-k available to every child in the District.  The legislation included provisions for professional development, quality improvement, and diverse delivery systems (pre-k would be enhanced in community, public school, and public charter school settings), and it was designed for both three- and four-year-old children.  If fully implemented, this legislation would put DC at the forefront of education policy nationwide.
 
Unfortunately, this year's budget reccomendation does not include sufficient funding for full implementation of the legislation.  The City Council is in the process of holding hearings about the budget, and I was fortunate to be able to testify at a hearing earlier this week.  Below is the testimony that I presented to the Council:

 

Good afternoon, my name is Jennifer Rosenbaum and I am a preschool teacher in the District. I would like to speak to you today regarding the proposed appropriations for the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008.


Over my past two years as a preschool teacher, I have witnessed amazing progress in all of my students. They have developed the social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language skills necessary to succeed in pre-k, kindergarten, and beyond. One of my students, Liliana, is an extremely observant, detail-oriented four-year-old who began school speaking only Spanish. She loved to tell stories and read books in Spanish, but was shy about speaking in English. I observed Liliana’s behavior carefully and devised individualized goals and instructional plans for home and school to help her build her language skills in both English and Spanish. Now, in April, Liliana is able to narrate complex stories, describe her emotions, and negotiate with her peers in both Spanish and English.


Another one of my students, Aaliyah, entered my class as an extremely energetic, outgoing three-year-old. She did not have many academic skills, but her interpersonal skills were strong and she was a keen observer of the world around her. Aaliyah quickly developed a love for reading (her favorite book is When Sophie Gets Angry...Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang), and could soon retell and sequence story events, make predictions about books, and track the print as we read. Not long after school started, Aaliyah’s family lost their home. Her life became extremely chaotic, but school remained constant. Aaliyah thrived on our classroom routine and took pride in the fact that she knew and understood our daily schedule. I maintained high expectations – both academic and behavioral – for Aaliyah, and put in place some individualized support systems to help her succeed in school. Ultimately, she continued to learn at an astonishingly fast pace – she now knows 85% of letter names and 46% of letter sounds, and she can rhyme, segment syllables, read sight words, read and interpret bar graphs, use nonstandard units of measurement, and recognize patterns.


Both Liliana and Aaliyah would have been at high risk for failure in kindergarten, but because they had the opportunity to attend a high-quality preschool program, they will enter school prepared to succeed. Their stories are not unique. Throughout the District, young children who have access to high-quality early care and education programs are developing the social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language skills that will prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond. Investing in high-quality early care and education programs is the first, and most critical, step to reforming the District’s K-12 education system.


Last year, the Council took the first step toward a unified, high-quality early care and education system by passing the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008. This ground breaking legislation has the potential to put DC at the forefront of early education policy nationwide. Unfortunately, next year’s proposed budget lacks critical investments in that would allow the full implementation of the legislation to begin. If the Council approves the current budget, the District will lack the funds necessary to develop a high-quality early care and education system that will prepare children for success in school and life. Specifically, next year’s budget does not allow for:

  • Coordinated pre-k program expansion in community-based centers, public schools, and public charter schools as required under the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008.
  • Quality improvement grant programs as required under the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008.
  • Workforce development scholarships or grants as required under the Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008.
  • Child Care Subsidy Rate Increase as recommended by the Market Rate Survey.

Without these appropriations, the quality of, and access to, early care and education in the District will remain stagnant. Children just like Liliana and Aaliyah will be denied access to a high-quality early education and will be at greater risk for failure in kindergarten through twelfth grade.


I urge you to fully fund the pre-k legislation in the amount of $14.1 million (as estimated by the Chief Financial Officer’s May 2008 Fiscal Impact Statement). By fully funding legislative implementation, the DC Council will be maintaining its commitment to early childhood, as exemplified in the unanimous passage of the legislation last year. The DC Council will therefore also be supporting the President’s focus on early childhood education as a key component of the nation’s economic recovery plan.


Thank you very much for your time and consideration of this critical issue. If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.

For more information about the legislation and its implementation, your can visit www.prekforalldc.org.  I will write another post later this spring to update you about the final budget appropriations! 

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