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Beshear's Early Childhood Initiatives May Encourage More Partnerships

Education professionals in Louisville say if Gov. Steve Beshear’s early childhood education initiatives are approved, it may drive more collaboration between public and private child care providers.Beshear has allocated $15 million in his budget to offer early childhood learning to thousands more children who are slightly above the poverty line, but that money can only go to public schools. However, not all public schools offer what parents want for their children.The Pritchard Committee’s Cindy Heine said Beshear’s proposal is a huge step in the right direction, but eventually she’d like to see legislation requiring public schools to collaborate with other community providers to offer children the best possible options. Some districts like Christian County Public Schools have already begun to form collaborations.“Instead of offering pre-school in school buildings they send their teachers to child care centers," said Heine.Christian County officials said this is partly because the school district lacks space, but it also allows kids to go to school closer to home.Although the money allocated by Beshear would go to public schools, there are still many non-public options that often offer services public schools don't.Jefferson County has around 832 child care facilities, said Janet Masterson, assistant executive director of Louisville's Community Coordinated Chid Care (4Cs). Many of these options offer proximity to home or extended hours to parents, she said.JCPS pays bus monitors to assure the district's early childhood education students get home safely. There are 230 bus monitors of which 140 are paid for by the state's Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) funds, the rest are federally funded through Head Start, said Harriet Thomas, director of JCPS Early Childhood Programs."Collectively, both public and private sector early childhood providers play a vital role in meeting the needs of this community," she said.But JCPS and other public districts aren't quite sure how funding will roll out, she said. And that may determine how the district may choose to collaborate with the private sector. The state's KERA funding is allocated for half-day programs, which aren't as popular as the full-day programs, said Thomas."What we have found is that parents and families need full day programs due to having jobs and/or going to school. Child care programs often provide options to families who have a need for the full day or extended hours," she said.It's still undetermined how many additional kids might be eligible for early childhood learning opportunities in Jefferson County, but Thomas estimates there may be around 1,000 county-wide.“We don’t know what percentage might actually come to the school district so it’s a little hard to say in a lot of detail what would happen because it would kinda depend how they roll that funding out," said Thomas.Several districts in Kentucky have expressed some interest in forming partnerships between private and non-profit childcare facilities, said Terry Tolan withKentucky's Education Cabinet."I did a workshop at the KY School Board Association conference a few weeks ago on this topic, and more than 100 school board members and superintendents attended, so the interest in the topic is growing. And there are some outstanding school districts taking collaboration to new levels," said Tolan.