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Board Votes to Expand Pre-K over Five Years

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Board Votes to Expand Pre-K over Five Years
Posted on 03/07/2019
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The Portland Board of Public Education voted March 5 to add nine new classrooms – 140 seats – to its public pre-kindergarten program over the next five years.  The new initiative will more than double the number of students currently served in the program’s existing eight classrooms, and is a step toward the Board’s aim of eventually achieving a truly universal pre-K program for the Portland Public Schools.

At least five of the nine new pre-K classrooms will be staffed with Portland Public Schools teachers and educational technicians and will be located in the district’s school buildings. The additional classrooms also will be staffed with Portland Public Schools teachers and educational technicians, but located in community partner sites or other sites as appropriate or available.

Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year this fall, expansion will occur incrementally over the next five years, with a plan to open two classrooms per year for four years and one classroom in the last year. The projected cost to fully implement the pre-K expansion plan by year 5 is $3.3 million. The district currently spends about $800,000 on pre-K.

The pre-K program currently has the capacity to serve only about 21 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds. In the 2018-2019 school year, 124 students are enrolled in pre-K in eight classrooms in the district’s public elementary schools and at partnership sites.

“Increased access to pre-kindergarten is something that Portland can be proud of and that will help make a difference to all students down the road,” said Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana. “This expansion of our pre-K program is an essential investment in student outcomes that will help the Portland Public Schools realize our Achievement, Equity and Whole Student goals in our strategic plan, the Portland Promise.”

Research shows that access to high-quality early childhood education helps reduce achievement gaps. Students perform better academically and go on to attend college at a greater rate.

The expansion also will help the district realize its Equity goal, which focuses on reducing academic achievement and opportunity gaps for financially disadvantaged students and others. Students in the pre-K program will demographically reflect the socio-economic make-up of the district overall, where 55 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 45 percent do not.

Greater access to pre-K also relates to the district’s Whole Student goal of helping students develop the skills, habits and mindsets they need to succeed.

The Portland Public Schools’ pre-K program was established in 2010 and increased by one class each year through 2015.  In 2017, the Board formally paused the expansion and district staff worked with Starting Strong, a project of Portland ConnectEd, to better understand the barriers to full access. The plan approved by the Board is built off of this understanding and the current plan and pending aspects of the expansion directly address those barriers.

Some aspects of the pre-K expansion are pending. One is transportation.

In the first year of the expansion, Metro bus vouchers will be provided to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The Board directed Portland Public Schools staff to explore and develop a plan for providing transportation for pre-K students. The district is charged with bringing that plan to the Board in the fall of 2019, in advance of budget development for the next fiscal year – FY2021.

Also, plans are to offer before- and after-school care for pre-K students on a sliding scale that will be developed and approved by the Board.

Finally, the Board directed staff to design a robust on-going evaluation process of the re-designed pre-K program that will explore the ability of the Portland Public Schools to achieve truly universal pre-K. That evaluation will be presented to the Board in advance of budget development for fiscal year 2022.