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State Plan Calls for Preschools in Public Schools

February 27, 1998
By: paula morris
MDN Columbia Bureau

Sarah Mirtaheri is one of the directors of the Kid's Depot Daycare center. The Columbia daycare has cared for children for more than 20 years. But Mirtaheri (MEER-tuh-heh-ree) might have a new competitor.

State Senator Roseann Bentley has introduced a bill that would put preschool programs in public schools. The Springfield Republican failed last year to get this bill passed, but is sure of its success this time around.

The idea is to provide preschool at an affordable cost to parents based on their incomes. For those who can't afford the care, one-thousand-dollars per child, per year, will be issued by the state.

Mirtaheri is worried the plan might put small operations like hers, out of business. "Missouri has a lot of rural districts, and this [plan] could mean the end for care centers in those areas."

Some schools are already expressing their concerns. Skip Deming is assistant superintendent for elementary education in Columbia.

He says, "Philosophically speaking, the plan is a good idea. But anything that requires space is a concern. We're already overcrowded."

Money is also an issue with Deming, "One-thousand-dollars is quite a bit less than the average per pupil expenditure. For kindergartners last year, it was over two-thousand-dollars per student."

Gina Adams is assistant director of childcare programs for the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. Adams co-authored a report on pre-kindergarten programs in different states.

She says, "Mostly what states do is try to ensure families get good quality pre-kindergarten education. States are allocating anywhere from three to ten-thousand dollars per student."

Bentley says, "One-thousand-dollars per student is not enough, as you can imagine."

But she says the money is there when you combine the funds of the parents who DO pay for the care, with other preschool programs like Title One.

Title One is a federal grant. It gives the state one-point-two-million-dollars a year to use for education. Missouri is now using part of that money for preschools. Nine Columbia school district elementary schools already have Title One preschool programs.

Title One Director Mary Humlechek says, "I'm looking forward to collaborating with folks who have money. We're not serving the needs of all the children who need preschool education."

Bentley's plan has won the support of Governor Mel Carnahan making the childcare issue a bipartisan effort.

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