The committee charged with studying pre-kindergarten and early childhood programming for East Lansing Public Schools reported to the Board of Education that they believe it would be very difficult to expand programming by fall 2017.
Committee members Becki Spitzer and Victoria Hall presented their report which included a survey of 211 residents, 75 percent of whom reported that they would enroll their children in a tuition-based preschool program offered by ELPS.
But the myriad of state and federal requirements of many of the early childhood programs would make it difficult to open a new facility to house these programs together with a tuition-based program.
Instead, they recommend keeping the current Early Childhood Special Education and Great Start Readiness Programs at Pinecrest and the Great Start Readiness Program at Donley elementary schools, and working with the facilities committee with hopes of creating an ideal space to serve all students in a “blended program” of special education and early childhood students.
Spitzer said the committee discussed using the currently closed Red Cedar Elementary for early childhood programming but she said that there were too many unknowns about the building and not enough to time to prepare the building for fall 2017. Head Start has expressed an interest in opening a location at Red Cedar, the committee reported.
“We are not knowledgeable about the space. Red Cedar as a temporary location, it could be a great spot but we don’t know that,” Spitzer said.
Some of the challenges involve the extended time required to make sure early childhood education classrooms are properly licensed. Aside from preparing and licensing a site, the District would also need to hire and train a staff, recruit families, create programming and create a food and nutrition plan.
However, the committee showed that there is a definite need for increased early childhood education. Over the past three years, applications for early childhood spots through Great Start Readiness Program have continued to rise. For the 2016-17 school year, 142 students applied for only 32 spots.
But because Great Start Readiness is a state-run program, East Lansing does not have the ability to simply open more slots for children. The District would have to apply to increase the slots if more slots become open in the future, Spitzer said.
The other program, Head Start, is a federal program and Spitzer confirmed that they would be able to add an additional classroom next fall and possibly future classrooms beyond that.
Board of Education Trustee Yasmina Bouraoui suggested the Board continue to move forward with expanding early childhood options and not wait any longer.
“I am concerned that you feel like we shouldn’t do anything until we have an ideal world. Ideal is fantastic but I don’t want to continue to wait and wait and wait until this is ideal,” I am not sure why this is something we are not entertaining now.”
The Board will hear the final report from the Community Bond Committee at their next meeting on November 28. This committee has been evaluating the facilities in the District with the idea that the Board would ask voters to approve a bond to upgrade elementary school facilities next spring. The November 28 meeting will be held in the East Lansing High School Student Union instead of the usual meeting room to house the anticipated larger crowd.