It is disappointing to see all the political posturing over pre-kindergarten funding in Indiana. It is as if we have taken our eye off the goal — high-quality preschool instruction for all — and focused more on funding instead. Pre-kindergarten is important, but providing it does not have to depend on having more money. Rather, pre-kindergarten is possible today if schools spend the money they already have more efficiently and effectively.
In Gary, GEO Foundation’s 21st Century Charter School began providing pre-kindergarten this year to nearly 80 students. We did not receive any philanthropic support or any additional federal dollars.
How do we do this?
Admittedly, we are small. We have to spend wisely. We cannot afford to provide hundreds of options to our students. Even if we could afford it, I’m not sure we would. We focus our dollars on providing the essentials and then try to stretch every dollar as far as possible to provide our students a robust and rich educational experience.
One area in which we achieve great economies is our high school. We do not provide foreign languages or many of the traditional options. Instead, we “contract out” to the local public colleges and universities for these services. This saves money and provides the opportunity to give students what they want, instead of limiting them to the two or three languages we could provide in-house. As a result, we achieve more with less. Last spring, 29 of our 34 graduating high school seniors earned college credits, some up to 60 credits before they received their diplomas.
We spend public money efficiently. We don’t duplicate public expenses. When students can take a college course instead of a high school course, we encourage that. This allows us to shift money from teacher salaries at the high school level to pre-kindergarten and other early grades. The two goals work hand in hand — high-quality early childhood education and high school education with greater learning choices.
We believe investing in early grades will lead to greater results in high school and college. Today, too many students do not complete high school because they foundered in the early grades. There are many reasons for this, but a high-quality early start certainly is not wasted.
The same goes for an enriched high school experience. Giving a student exposure to college-level courses and the confidence to tackle those courses, pays off many times over.
While we don’t have all the answers, we do believe we are on the right track. We have 100 percent graduation rates for three of the past four years and we retain our students over time. We don’t lose them. Adding pre-kindergarten to our opportunities for families will lead to even greater student success in the future.
All parties interested in seeing pre-kindergarten become a reality should stop taking sides. Philanthropic and corporate leaders have taken a strong stand in support of pre-kindergarten instruction. Now they can help make preschool a reality by assisting public education leaders in learning where efficiencies lie and how best to stretch public dollars so that we get the largest possible return on our investment..
Teasley is founder and president of the Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation.
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