CINCINNATI — As Toledo Public Schools finds itself in the midst of a political battle over who should run the federally funded Head Start program, it also finds itself in uncharted waters.
For years, Head Start, a program for 3 to 5-year-olds from low-income families, has been run locally by the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo.
The agency must now compete if it wants to continue receiving the nearly $13 million it gets from the federal government to run the program. TPS plans to apply for the grant, and other nonprofit and even for-profit groups also might be interested.
Aside from a state-required special-needs preschool program, the district's early childhood offerings historically have been lacking, studies show.
Meanwhile another Ohio urban district, Cincinnati Public Schools, has been in the game for years and has found it to pay major dividends.
Districts can't change their students' history, but they can change how prepared they are to enter schools.
"Any community groups' kids will eventually come to you," Debbie Bradshaw, Cincinnati Public's early childhood director, said to Toledo Public School officials who recently visited Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Public Schools offers a large, academically successful program on a tight budget. It is not a Head Start grantee. Instead, the system is one of six grant delegates in Hamilton County. Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, the equivalent of EOPA, receives the grant.
The CPS system has 95 preschool classrooms in 40 schools, serving about 1,600 children. It funds the early childhood program with about $7 million annually, about half what EOPA receives for about 2,000 students in Lucas County. And only half of Cincinnati's preschool funding comes from Head Start.
The rest is mostly from a pool of federal money called Title I funding, which is dedicated to high-poverty schools.
Ms. Bradshaw said the district can run its program without general fund money or a huge Head Start grant because of several structural decisions that save millions.
Parents must take their children to preschool because the district provides no transportation, typically a major part of early childhood programs' budget.
Most education providers bus students for fear that parents who find transporting their children unfeasible or inconvenient will remove them.
The Cincinnati district has an advantage over Toledo in that it has preschool sites throughout the city, instead of in about a half-dozen centralized locations that EOPA operates. But Ms. Bradshaw argues that fewer sites wouldn't decrease demand, just space.
"My wait list would be 2,000, not 500," if she had six preschool locations, she said.
Ms. Bradshaw has results to back up that statement.
Although not without critics, the most widely used measure in Ohio to determine preschool effectiveness is the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment — Literacy, which gauges children's skills in oral language, rhyming, letter identification, and alliteration, elements that are essential for reading.
The assessment uses a 29-point scale; Cincinnati's United Way uses 19 as a benchmark for kindergarten readiness.
Students who enter Toledo Public Schools average a 17 on the assessment; students who go through Cincinnati's preschool program averaged a 20.3 last year.
Although the district competes with other early childhood programs, it doesn't work in an isolated manner, Ms. Bradshaw said.
The district offers professional development to child-care providers throughout the city; Cincinnati Public-affiliated preschools have greatly increased kindergarten readiness scores, and also perform above those in Toledo.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.
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