The Daily Californian Online

Local Pre-K curriculum might face restructuring

By Damian Ortellado
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Category: News > City > Local Schools

The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education planned to address Wednesday whether a 15 percent statewide reduction in funding for preschool and extended-day programs could result in a restructuring of the Pre-K program - something parents fear could affect plans to close the district's academic achievement gap.

The proposal, on which the board did not take any action at the meeting, could eliminate the 9.5-hour Pre-K program and reduce the number of full-day students enrolled in district preschools. Although the proposal would increase the overall number of students enrolled in the program, the proposed restructuring would underrepresent students from low-income families, according to Pablo Paredes, chair of the School Governance Council for the district's three preschools and parent of a child enrolled in the program.

"Berkeley holds the distinction of having the last (9.5-hour) program in the state," Paredes said. "It cannot be a system that lets middle-income families ride out the recession and lets low-income families suffer."

The school district partially relies on Head Start - a United States Department of Health and Human Services program dedicated to promoting school readiness for children in low-income families - to help fund the district program. Head Start funds less than 10 percent of the preschool's budget, according to the proposal.

Under the proposed 9.5-hour cut, the district would not satisfy state standards to meet the required number of qualifying, low-income students enrolled in the program to receive funding from Head Start.

The lack of qualifying students is proof that the elimination of the 9.5-hour program would unfairly underrepresent low-income families, according to Paredes.

In June 2008, the district passed the 2020 Vision for Berkeley's Children and Youth resolution, which provided "equitable outcomes" to all students at Berkeley's public schools, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, by 2020. Paredes said this goal will be jeopardized with the approval of the proposal, as many children from low-income families face a language barrier that can only be conquered with an appropriate preschool education.

But according to Mark Coplan, a spokesperson for the district, the education of preschool children will not suffer from the elimination of the 9.5-hour district program.

"There's no grade level that's 9.5 hours long a day," he said.

Coplan added that although the cuts are unfortunate, the decrease in funding to preschool programs throughout the state will inevitably affect the district's program.

"There's nobody on the staff that has any desire for anything other than the strongest preschool program we can have," Coplan said. "The fact is that the board is willing to step up and do whatever they can, but that money has to come out of that program somewhere."

Paredes said a group of about 40 parents plans to go to the board meeting to voice its opinions and suggestions. The parents also plan to ask for funding from other sources, such as the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program, which allots certain taxpayer funds to school programs.

"When you get rid of a program completely ... the idea of the program disappears, and trying to get it back when the budget gets better is a million times harder," Paredes said. "In the long term, we are worried about what this means for public education and the nation."

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