Mt. Pleasant lagging behind other area schools in preschool education for young students
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Mt. Pleasant missed the boat on the early childhood education program and now it’s “what do we do now” time.
In 2007, the State of Iowa launched a statewide voluntary preschool program for basically four-and five-year-old students. Although there was no statutory requirement that school districts participate, the program was funded by the state (participating schools received at that time 60 percent of the normal student aid and now receive 50 percent or $3,036 per student the current school year).
Over the last six years, 316 of the state’s 351 school districts (90 percent) are participating in the program. Mt. Pleasant and New London are the only two county schools and two of the 35 statewide schools that do not have the program. Also, the enrollment window was closed two years ago.
Dave Helman of Salem, chairman of the Henry/Washington Early Childhood board of directors, told the Mt. Pleasant School Board Monday night that he and Tasha Beghtol, Early Childhood director, were appearing only to present a status report and answer questions.
“Our purpose (in appearing at the meeting) is for information because you do not have any statuatory responsibility for early childhood,” Helman began. “We are trying to find a level playing field so everyone has a fair shot when entering school. There are not enough preschool slots to accommodate the kids in Mt. Pleasant. That concerns us because we don’t have all the resources we need.”
Helman pointed to statistics that show Mt. Pleasant and New London, the two school districts in the two-county (Henry and Washington) area that do not have the state preschool program, lag behind other districts in providing four- and five-year-old children with preschool experience.
In 2011-12, 76 percent of the eligible kids in Mt. Pleasant and 75 percent in New London had preschool experience. Move ahead one year and 62 percent of Mt. Pleasant students and 78 percent of New London students had preschool experience.
That compares to 87 and 94 percent in the WACO School District in the past two years and 89 and 91 percent in the Winfield-Mt. Union School District.
Over the past two years in the Washington Community School District, 96 and 90 percent of students have gained preschool experience the past two years.
Helman admitted that some school districts initially were hesitant to become part of the state-sponsored preschool program for fear the state would pull its funding of the program. “With 90 percent (of the state school districts) participating, it seems to be here to stay. Operating a preschool is a tough business and not lucrative. People don’t go into it to make a buck, but to serve a need.
“However, it has been shown that preschool has an impact on students’ future performance,” Helman added. “We are concerned that as the state and nation continue to expand preschools, we are a couple of steps behind and have to work to fill the void. Preschool strengthens the education program.”
Mt. Pleasant Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Roederer said a concern over the future vitality of existing preschools in Mt. Pleasant was one of the reasons the district opted not to jump on board. “One of our concerns early on was what it was going to do to our preschool providers.”
Further discussion suggested appointing a taskforce to study the issue and also lobbying legislators to reopen the window to join the program.
No formal action, however, was taken.
The Henry/Washington Early Childhood board is comprised of 13 volunteers, seven of whom are from Henry County.