Early Childhood

Some immigrant children are shut out of new preschool programs

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Preschoolers' backpacks at IPS School 102.

The thousands of poor Indiana children who will attend new publicly funded preschool programs this year through Gov. Mike Pence’s state preschool pilot and an Indianapolis program sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard all have one thing in common.

They all must be legal U.S. residents.

Children who are in the country without permission aren’t welcome into either the state or Indianapolis preschool program.

How can public schools be barred from excluding those kids while publicly funded preschool programs are free to do so?

Indianapolis program leaders say they’re following the state’s lead. State officials say they’re following federal guidelines. And while federal law does, indeed, require schools to give all children fair and equal access to public education regardless of citizenship, the rule starts in kindergarten.

“I don’t think that anybody was consciously saying, ‘We want to exclude or not be welcoming,’ but there were some boundaries that we had to identify in terms of who could we serve with public dollars and federal dollars,” said Beth Stroh, who administers the city preschool program through the United Way of Central Indiana.

The state says it’s not allowing non-U.S. citizens into the program to stay in line with the rules of its other programs.

“This maintains consistency in policy among our early childhood education programs,” said Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. “The Child Care and Development Fund and Early Education Matching Grant programs also require that the eligible child be a citizen.”

But immigrant advocates say the rule unfairly excludes kids, arguing it prevents children who are already at risk for difficulty in school from getting the same early help their future classmates in similar circumstances can receive.

“It’s a shame,” said Indianapolis immigration lawyer Fatima Johnson. “They’ll be behind everyone else. If only a portion of kids are kindergarten-ready, how much money and resources do you have to spend later to catch the kids up?”

Read more: Lost in Translation: Struggle and success as language barriers reshape Indianapolis schools

The number of children who could be excluded because of this requirement is likely small. Children born in the U.S. to parents who are in the country without permission, which are estimated to account for 88 percent of all children of immigrant parents, are U.S. citizens by birth and therefore welcome into the program. And so are refugees with legal status. Indiana is estimated to have 10,000 foreign-born children under age 16 who are not U.S. citizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Some school districts have found a way to accommodate preschool-age children who are in the country without permission.

Wayne Township, on Indianapolis’ West side, is a participant in the state’s On My Way preschool program. Superintendent Jeff Butts said the district accepts all students for its preschool program. But if they don’t qualify for the state preschool program they can still get tuition help through a federal poverty program. The district’s preschool offers 80 preschool spots funded by the federal grant. Citizenship is not a requirement for that program.

Stroh said the state and city programs tried to invite children from families that don’t speak English fluently to apply. The state translated its applications into English and Spanish. Stroh said the city added French, Burmese and Chin, another common language spoken by immigrants in Indianapolis.

But she said they didn’t follow through with that throughout the entire process. The information that was sent to the families who were accepted into the program was only in English, Stroh said.

“We did make an effort,” Stroh said. “That’s a way we can improve the notification process. (Some) couldn’t even read the cover.”

It’s unclear if undocumented children will be accepted into future rounds of the state or city program. FSSA Spokeswoman Marci Lemons said the department didn’t want to speculate.

Johnson said she hopeful that rules could chance so more children could be included.

“The number of people who are sensitive to this issue is growing,” Johnson said. “These people are here to stay. They’re not leaving. It would behoove Indiana to have educated people.”

Making the grade

New York City gets a gold medal for pre-K quality and access, new report finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Pre-K students play during center time at The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens. New York City earned high marks in a national review of pre-K programs.

New York City’s pre-K program earns high marks when it comes to quality and access, according to a new report that ranks early childhood education in major cities across the country.

That’s according to CityHealth, a policy advocacy group, and the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, an authority on pre-K research.

The city is one of only five that were awarded CityHealth’s highest ranking — a gold medal — for meeting at least eight of 10 benchmarks for effectiveness and having high student enrollment. The report evaluated pre-K programs in the country’s 40 largest cities.

“I think New York City should be very proud of their program, and it really is a model for other cities,” said Ellen Frede, senior co-director of the institute. She was not an author of the report.

New York fell short on two measures: teacher training and education requirements for classroom assistants.

The knock on teacher training is surprising, given that the city often touts its dedication to professional development as one of the major factors contributing to program quality

Also surprising: The report gives New York City credit for pay equity, which measures whether pre-K teachers are paid similarly to their K-12 colleagues. Only in city-run classrooms do early childhood educators earn the same as teachers who work with older students. But most pre-K students attend community-based programs, where teachers can earn as little as 60 percent of the salary paid to those who work for the city.

“It’s equity to some extent. There is work to be done there in New York City,” said Albert Wat, senior policy director for Alliance for Early Success, who peer-reviewed the report.

Still, New York City is far ahead of many other cities such as Indianapolis, where enrollment is low and programs show few of the marks of high quality. Education department spokeswoman Isabelle Boundy called the city’s early education efforts a “game-changer.” Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the city has made free pre-K available to all 4-year-olds and has begun to expand the program to 3-year-olds.

“As New York City continues to increase access to free, full-day, high-quality early education, our programs are on par with gold-standard programs across the nation,” she wrote in an email.

The rankings are awarded by CityHealth, a non-profit funded by the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, which notes the long-term health benefits afforded by pre-K. In New York City, a 2017 study showed improved health outcomes for low-income children after the launch of universal pre-K. Other studies, however, have shown mixed results.

You can read the full report here.


Early education

New pre-K report gives Memphis bronze medal, Nashville gold

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones
Pre-K students at Lucie E. Campbell Elementary in Memphis.

A new report on quality and access to early education programs across the country gives Memphis a bronze medal, mainly for providing prekindergarten for at least 30 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds, and Nashville a gold medal for meeting both quality and accessibility standards.

The report said in addition to accessibility, Memphis met benchmarks related to classroom size, teacher-child ratio, and teacher education level, but missed the mark when it came to curriculum or learning goals, teacher professional development, and local funding commitment.

Nashville met criteria for accessibility, classroom size, teacher-child ratio, teacher education level, local funding, and professional development. Both Memphis and Nashville met standards for salary equity, meaning that prekindergarten teachers were paid similar to K-12 teachers.

The report  was produced by CityHealth, a policy advocacy group, and the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, an authority on pre-K research.

Memphis officials were quick to take issue with the report’s finding regarding local financial support. “Mayor (Jim) Strickland has been committed to pre-K funding since he’s been on the council,” said Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer. He also noted that as a councilman, the mayor advanced two pre-K referendums, although both were defeated by voters.

Most of the 5,600 subsidized preschool seats in Shelby County Schools are funded through state and federal grants. Last year, the Memphis City Council allocated $8 million to replace an expiring federal grant and another $8 million to add 1,000 preschool slots, McGowen said.

After 2021, he said, the city will maintain $6 million in annual funding. Shelby County government is working on additional funding streams.

Read the full report below: