Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mandated preschool programs boost enrollment

August 31, 2006

A 71st Street elementary school in Shawnee can't come soon enough for the early childhood education programs at De Soto USD 232 schools.

District operations and planning director Jack Deyoe said preliminary numbers put 134 students in two programs it offered for preschool children.

The early childhood education program had an enrollment of 112 students as of Aug. 25 and the 4-year-old at-risk program had an enrollment of 22 that same day.

The preschool and at-risk students weren't included in the enrollment figures reported in the Aug. 24 issue of The De Soto Explorer.

Deyoe expects those number to grow before the district reports its official enrollment to the state Sept. 20. Families entering the district for the first time are just learning about the programs, he said.

The state requires the district provide preschools for at-risk and special-needs children. However, the students are counted as half a student in the state's base per-pupil formula of $4,316 per student. That means the district gets about $2,158 for every at-risk student, special-needs preschool student or kindergarten student. The official numbers will be counted Sept. 20, which will determine how much funding per pupil the programs will receive.

Not all the children in the early childhood program are special-needs students. Seventy so far this year are children accepted as age-appropriate role models to provide special-needs students behavioral models.

Parents must pay tuition for role models, as the state does not provide aid for their attendance in the preschool.

Last year, the district had a preliminary enrollment of 153 in the preschool program before overcrowding at Prairie Ridge Elementary School forced administrators to move all the programs to Countryside Learning Center in De Soto.

Although this year's preliminary enrollment numbers don't show as many students yet, Deyoe said the programs had rapid growth throughout each year. This year, for example, on Aug. 18, there were about 40 students with special needs in the early childhood preschool. On Aug. 25, there were 70 students.

"When you build an elementary school, you figure so many full classrooms, but when you put in a program for developmental delayed (children), you might have four or five kids in those classrooms instead of 20 or 21," Deyoe said. "That just takes space out of your school."

The 71st Street elementary school in Shawnee set to open in August 2007 would only alleviate those overcrowding issues temporarily, Deyoe said. That's why the De Soto district is including an early childhood education center in the $105.7 million bond referendum that will be on the ballot in November. The center would be built adjacent to the newest Shawnee elementary school.

"We'll have this sixth elementary next year, and some of the spaces will come back that we've lost this year," Deyoe said. "That's when we'll need the early childhood center. It's just an addition onto the sixth elementary on 71st Street, it's not a building itself."

Deyoe said the early childhood education numbers are difficult to calculate in the De Soto area, because many young families are moving to the district throughout the year with children age 5 and younger.

Space is limited for the preschool program and Deyoe said there's a long list of students waiting to get into preschool.

Last year, the district had 78 models and 53 "non-models" in the preschool program.

For the at-risk program, the district serves 22 students. Deyoe said the at-risk program was more restricted and was the same last year for both the preliminary enrollment and the official count in September.

The district's kindergarten students are also counted at 50 percent for state funding purposes. The preliminary numbers count about 523 kindergartners in De Soto, but the district only gets to count half a student for the school finance formula.

Last year, preliminary enrollment numbers showed 510 in the kindergarten throughout the district. The students attend half-day kindergarten because the schools wouldn't have space for them to attend a full day, Deyoe said. Starside, for example, offers its required programs under the Title I funding program, so the building only has space for half the kindergartners.

Deyoe said although the early childhood education numbers don't give a good picture of how many students will enter the district in upcoming years, it does identify some of the special needs students.

"It's indicative of the number of special education students that will qualify with IEPs, (individual education plans)" he said. "But as far as giving me any idea of numbers of children, the (preschool peer) models are just kind of a service -- it doesn't represent anything as far as numbers."

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