A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

State-funded per child preschool rates cut for 2021-2022 due to decreased enrollment during pandemic

By Jacqueline Thompson
Kentucky Teacher

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) heard this week how the preschool per-child funding rates will be impacted due to a decrease in state-funded preschool enrollment during the pandemic, as well as plans to help schools with student recruiting efforts and providing reassurance to parents about in-person services.

Each year, the KBE reviews and approves proposed preschool per-child funding rates. A formula is used to provide funding to school districts, and amounts are based on the average number of children served on Dec. 1 and March 1 of the previous academic year.

The state-funded preschool program offers comprehensive services to three and four-year-old children with disabilities and low-income four-year-old children at or below 160% of the federal poverty level. For a single parent with two children, 160 percent of the poverty level means a household income of up to $35,136.

Bill Buchanan, program consultant in the Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL), said there is a standard per-child rate for three categories of enrollment: at-risk, speech delays and developmental delays. There also is a weighted category for 3- and 4-year-olds with severe or multiple disabilities.

Enrollment in state-funded preschool decreased by more than 6,000 students between 2019 and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Buchanan. There was a significant increase in per-child funding rates between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, indicating a significant decrease in enrollment.

Buchanan said that according to a study by the National Institute for Early Education Research, most states reported some drop in enrollment during the 2020-2021 school year. Of those, they recorded a 15% to 41% drop in preschool enrollment due to limited in-person options, concerns about safety and budget cuts.

“I want to be clear today,” said Buchanan during KBE’s June 2 meeting. “Kentucky did not cut funding to preschool.”

Buchanan is working with the Early Childhood Regional Training Centers in Kentucky to support schools in recruiting students and providing reassurance to parents about in-person preschool services.

Another challenge for OSEEL is improving school readiness.

“By school readiness, I mean elementary school readiness,” said Buchanan. “All schools must be ready for all children when they arrive in the fall.”

OSEEL’s data shows a significant number of preschool students did not receive the intended benefits of the state-funded preschool program, such as: developmentally appropriate activities, engagement with caring adults in an early childhood setting, providing parents with opportunities to learn about successful transitions to kindergarten and home visits.

Buchanan said KDE also is assisting the Prichard Committee with revisions of The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle, a document designed to support districts with implementing best practices for parent engagement.

To support teaching and learning practices, OSEEL also is providing training opportunities to kindergarten and preschool teachers on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. At least 12 trainings have been implemented so far, with those opportunities announced through Kentucky Teacher and the Professional Learning Bulletin Board.

This article originally appeared at Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education

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