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LAUSD committee building support for early childhood funding

LA School Report | April 2, 2015

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early childhoodLater today, an LA Unified committee will discuss the importance and feasibility of sustaining a program aimed at helping children in their first years of life as they approach kindergarten.

While experts regard this time as critical to child development, money the district has used to fund such efforts are sunsetting: The proposed budget calls for the elimination of the Student Readiness and Language Development Program (SRLDP) over the next two years. The cost is about $36 million a year to benefit 10,000 children.

Bennett Kayser, chairman of the Early Childhood and Parent Engagement Committee, is mounting an effort to safeguard the program even as the district is facing a $113 million deficit next year and Superintendent Ramon Cortines has been telling the board that it can no longer afford to fund every program the members want.

“I believe that we must engage out neediest students and their parents as early as possible so that we might get them to kindergarten on-par with their less challenged, more affluent peers. As a teacher, I know that the so-called ‘schools-to-prisons pipeline’ is really a pampers-to-prison pipeline and that we must do more on the front end of these children’s lives to change the trajectory.”

Money for the SRLDP comes from a Local Control Funding Formula account and is used for magnet programs, magnet transportation, class size reduction programs for schools as well as early childhood education support.

A district press release said yesterday that board members are “ receiving hundreds of emails daily on this topic,” urging the continuation of the program.

As one email said, according to Kayser’s office: “LAUSD’s early learning programs are desperately needed because they prepare students for success in the K-12 system and help to close the achievement gap as it is first beginning to form, especially for low-income children and English Language Learners. Without SRLDP, most of our children would not be able to have the benefit of preschool at all.”

The committee is scheduled to hear a presentation from Kim Belshé, executive director of First 5 LA, an advocacy group for child development in the earliest years.

In November, First 5 LA released a report, Focusing for the Future, a strategic plan form 2015 through 2020, from which Ms. Belshé said she in basing her remarks. The report outlines a shift in focus for the group and calls on a new set of guidelines for the years ahead:

  • Focus on prevention.
  • Focus on systems and policy change.
  • Seek to have a broad impact, affecting large numbers of people.
  • Prioritize investments that strengthen families and, whenever possible, improve community capacity.
  • Prioritize the identification and scaling up of evidence-based practices.
  • Engage partners at the earliest possible stage of activity and/or investment.

The committee meeting is scheduled to start at 2 pm, with Ms. Belshé leading off, followed by Cecia Ayala, Chief Executive Director of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, and Maureen Diekmann, Executive Director of the district’s Early Childhood Education Division.

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