ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent of schools and two department directors in MCPS said Tuesday they must provide preschool to more students who need it, but they don’t have enough classroom space.
MCPS is increasing its total number of full-day preschool classes from seven to eight and will provide more children with summer preschool programs in Fiscal Year 2019, thanks to State Department of Education funding, federal grants to the state and additional County funding, Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith said.
Deann Collins, director of MCPS Division of Title I and Early Childhood Programs and Services, cited a Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight report, which said increasing preschool attendance will likely help reduce the achievement gap.
The achievement gap is the difference in academic performance between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian classmates. With the addition of preschool, children in minority groups and children with disabilities will enter kindergarten closer to the academic level of their peers, Collins said.
Amy Cropp, director of the MCPS Division of Prekindergarten, Special Programs and Related Services, said the County needs more places for classrooms for all the children, as they continue to expand the number of preschool classes.
“At some point, space – we don’t have any more space to do it within MCPS,” Cropp told the school board Tuesday.
Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith agreed, and said MCPS must form more partnerships with organizations and companies for facility use, including private preschool program providers, in which to put the preschool programs.
“One of the conversations we’ve had with Health and Human Services is, it doesn’t have to be in the school,” Smith said. “It can be adjacent to the school, [or] the neighborhood, and it can be co-located with an early-care and early-learning facility where multiple people come in to provide different services and support, and all the money can then be pulled together and braided together to fund that.”
Smith said in a memorandum to the Board of Education that only 70 percent of the 4-year-olds who are financially eligible to attend preschool from MCPS or through County HHS are enrolled.
MCPS affords preschool to 4-year-olds whose family income meets or is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Two-thousand, one-hundred eighty-five children are enrolled in part-day prekindergarten classes, for which the threshold is 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline, or a $46,435 income for a family of four. In addition, children with disabilities who have an Individualized Education Program also are eligible for preschool with no fee, regardless of eligibility requirement.
Head Start, offered through Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, is a pre-kindergarten class for 4-year-old children in poverty. Eligible children’s family income is 100 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which is $25,100 for a family of four. Through the County HHS department, 648 children are currently enrolled.
Children attend Head Start in MCPS classrooms.
Charlene Muhammad, program manager for Head Start in Montgomery County, said classroom availability is not the top concern for expanding Head Start. Instead, money influences how many Head Start classes MCPS has.
“If it’s Head Start classes, it’s really funding, you know, because the federal government funds us to serve so many children,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad works for the County Department of Health and Human Services, which receives federal funding to pay for Head Start classes.
“If the feds were to offer us more money, then we could renegotiate that, but right now it’s federal funding,” Muhammad said.
Smith said for MCPS to provide preschool to every income-eligible child and to every eligible child with a disability would be impossible. Organizations and companies in the County must become a part of MCPS-providing preschool programs, such as by entering agreements with the school system to share a facility.
“It really is about the community and the opportunity,” Smith said. “It’s not about MCPS doing this. It’s not. We cannot do this alone, for young children. We must have the community engaged and we use places like we talked about recently… [it is important] that we take commercial spaces, that we take non-profit spaces, we take former schools and create co-located and shared spaces and everybody is working together.”