School districts find creative ways to fund pre-K

By: | November 17, 2017

Big city districts are taking the lead in funding pre-K programs as states work more slowly to expand access.

“While states continue to make progress in expanding access to early education, cities have increasingly taken it upon themselves to supplement those resources with local contributions” says Albert Wat, senior policy director at the Alliance for Early Success.

Usually, city preschool measures get funded through a dedicated city tax. For example, Denver and San Antonio have expanded access to pre-K through revenues from sales tax. Seattle does so through a property tax, while Philadelphia uses a tax on sodas.

In San Francisco and Wake County, North Carolina, local leaders dedicated funding from the city or county’s general revenues to pre-K programs.

Adjusting formulas

While administrators cannot control tax revenue, they do have control over the use of federal funds, particularly Title I and Title II. ESSA also makes it clear that districts can use Title II funding to support professional development for early childhood educators.

In about a dozen states and the District of Columbia, pre-K is financed through the state’s school funding formula, which means districts are operated as pre-K through 12.

“It’s tremendously successful—it’s built into the K12 formula and is treated like any other grade” says Megan Carolan, director of policy research at the Institute for Child Success, an independent, nonprofit education research organization.

If a district receives funding to serve preschool students with disabilities, it can use “reverse mainstreaming” to bring in non-special needs students to serve as models in the classroom, says W. Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

“Essentially you have a lot of infrastructure supported by the preschool special ed program” Barnett says. “You have a need for integration with non-special needs kids. The marginal cost of adding those kids is very close to zero.”

Administrator action

Early childhood education programs significantly boost students’ chances of educational and economic achievement over the course of their lives, according to a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. And administrators have much to gain from championing preschool, Wat says.

Whether funding comes from local, state or federal sources, administrators who have access to such resources can ensure more children start kindergarten on a stronger footing and ready to engage intellectually and socially.

If a district does not offer pre-K, administrators should learn more about existing early education programs in the community, which may already receive local, state or federal resources. Administrators can also connect with local leaders—including mayors, council members, business leaders and parents—to develop a local financing strategy.

“By partnering with these organizations and pooling resources, district leaders may be able to serve more children, extend the length of the day or provide more services even with limited new dollars” Wat says.