Within the school district, there are nearly 3,000 four-year olds eligible for preschool. Unfortunately, funding only allows DMPS to serve about half that number, with another 500 or so attending a private preschool. That means 1,000 children each year are going without access to a quality early childhood education, missing out on the proven advantages preschool provides in preparing students for elementary school.
School Board member Rob Barron is working to change that. He has launched an effort to raise funds for an additional preschool classroom: $125,000. This would not only provide half-day preschool to 40 more Des Moines four-year olds but also help increase enrollment at DMPS, the measurement used to determine much of state education funding.
Mr. Barron recently had a column published in the Des Moines Register, which is reprinted below, further explaining why this is important and how you can help.
This past August, my wife and I had the joy of crossing off one item on our parental bucket list: taking our eldest child to school for his first day of kindergarten. We hugged and took pictures. He smiled, looking happy and excited. He also looked so little.
When I entered the school, the hallway to his classroom seemed so large and my son seemed so small. I wondered about him walking down the hall by himself to his classroom every day, alone in a sea of much bigger kids. Would he navigate the breakfast line, hang up his backpack in his locker, and remember to make his lunch choice each day? It wasn’t a smooth ride to five-year-old independence, but he made it.
But I was never worried about his preparation for class. The year prior, Javy had been enrolled in Mrs. Reagh’s preschool classroom at Walnut Street School. That classroom is one of many located throughout Des Moines Public Schools, serving roughly 1,500 four-year-old students.
Sadly, DMPS has funding to serve only half of our 3,000 eligible preschoolers. District data shows us that about 500 kindergarteners who were not served in DMPS preschool received preschool from private providers. Yet that leaves a third of Des Moines’ preschool age children, or roughly 1,000 four-year-olds, who lack access to a preschool education every year.
We know that DMPS preschool works. Kids entering kindergarten from DMPS preschool were twice as likely to start their elementary education on grade level for literacy as their peers who did not attend preschool with us.
That is not for lack of effort by our state leaders, who, beginning with former Gov. Chet Culver and the Legislature in 2009, passed a Universal Preschool Program, which funds much of the preschool program in Des Moines and other districts. But because preschool funds are based on the prior year’s enrollment, my district can grow enrollment only by coming up with the cost to start a classroom for one year: $125,000. Some districts have the reserve funds to do that, but we do not. In fact, we cut $24 million out of our total budget last year and expect similar cuts in the next two years.
While I hope this essay will give our state policymakers a push to bridge the one-year gap in funding, my concern lies with the kids in my district that may go without preschool next year. Each year, we have a waiting list of 100 four-year-olds hoping to access DMPS preschool. Because of a lack of classrooms, staff and resources, we have to turn those families away until openings become available.
For the first time in many years, there is hope for more four-year-olds to receive the preschool they deserve this fall. DMPS has identified a room that they could convert to a classroom at our Mitchell Early Learning Center. And as a DMPS parent and a school board member, I have committed to raising $125,000 to make it happen.
I’m ecstatic to report that generous donors have committed $50,000 of my $125,000 goal. I’m making progress on more donations, but I want to invite my whole city to join me in this campaign to provide preschool for 40 four-year-olds this fall.
If this campaign is successful, we will have the funds to hire a teacher and associate, as well as purchase classroom supplies to teach one class of 20 preschoolers in the morning and another in the afternoon. Most important, our waiting list for preschool will be 40 names shorter and 40 children will take a big step forward with very little feet, with Universal Preschool covering the costs in future years.
You can donate online and through the mail. Every donation will make a difference. Initially, the challenge of raising these funds made me feel like my son on his first day of kindergarten, looking down that big, busy hallway. But now, fueled by the generosity of donors and the heartfelt belief that this is the right thing to do, I know we can meet our goal.
I am proud to have called Des Moines home for nearly my whole life. My pride does not come from a ranking on a list or the inundation of presidential candidates. I’m proud of my hometown because we are a family that will put the needs of all our children first. So please, join me and let’s provide 40 four-year-olds the education they deserve!
How to donate
- Checks can be mailed to Des Moines Public Schools, Mitchell ELC Fundraising Campaign, Attn: Accounts Receivable, 2323 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312
- Online: https://dmps.revtrak.net/mitchell-early-learning-center-fundraising/