LIBERTY — Liberty Public Schools’ Early Childhood Center will have a full-day program in the coming school year, created to take full advantage of a funding opportunity made available in 2014 for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
Marking the first time tax dollars have been available for early education, House Bill 1689, passed in 2014, allows public school districts to count free and reduced-price lunch early childhood learners in average daily attendance. Attendance at the state level is counted down to the minute of learning time, meaning it takes two half-day students to equal one full-time student present.
Adding a full-time program increases revenue for local districts because the number of full-time students counted in the district is part of the calculation determining each district’s share of state funding.
Beginning in 2019-2020, 40 qualifying students will be added to the ECC building, boosting enrollment to 400 students total. Although the coming year’s program is full, Principal Sarah Birk said there is potential for the program to expand in the future.
“It’s a new program,” Birk said. “The only criteria for it is that the student be one year out from kindergarten and qualify for free and reduced lunch.”
With the addition of an entirely new program, the district also hired Assistant Principal Bart Tittle, who started July 1.
“I’m thrilled,” Tittle said. “This is very unique within early childhood, to have an assistant principal. It really speaks to the district’s commitment and the idea that it is going to continue to grow.”
According to the 2014 bill, pre-K students counted toward average attendance cannot exceed 4% of students in grades kindergarten through 12 who are eligible for free and reduced lunch.
The full-day program is one of four early childhood programs the district provides, in addition to Early Childhood in Special Education, Title I for students who may need more support in certain areas but do not necessarily have a learning disability, and Parents as Teachers.
Every student, regardless of program, undergoes a screening process. Even if the student isn’t enrolled in or eligible for any of the programs, Birk said, parents are encouraged to schedule a screening by calling the school.
“It is such good information for families,” Birk said. “It looks at five areas of development to help them be their child’s first and most important teacher.”
Following a screening, results help staff to identify if the student is eligible for Title I or special education services.
“In addition to these programs,” Birk said, “we are really looking at expanding our community partnerships as well. It’s called the LPS community provider network.”
Public pre-K offerings are limited to those who are eligible for the four programs. Additionally, like many other districts, LPS does not want to interfere with private business or compete.
“Typically, at the ECC, we are serving families who may need an extra layer of intervention ... or serving families who are not accessing early learning providers at all,” Birk said.
With the community provider network, knowing the students are likely to enter LPS later in life, the district is aiming to have monthly meetings to share community development, talk about different programs and discuss best practices.
Birk said, “We are making sure we are offering some of those same high-quality professional development opportunities to all providers.”