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Mayor Walsh announces funds to increase pre-k slots

Trea Lavery
Mayor Walsh announces funds to increase pre-k slots
Mayor Martin Walsh attends a universal pre-K announcement at ABCD Head Start Walnut Grove. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Mayor Martin Walsh announced last week that his office will devote $15 million to a universal pre-kindergarten program that would provide free, quality pre-K education to all 4-year-olds in the city in the next five years.

“There is no better investment we can make than providing our children with high-quality learning opportunities from an early age,” Walsh said in a statement. “We have set a strong foundation over the last several years to offer more high-quality pre-K seats than ever before.”

The $15 million “Quality Pre-K Fund” is part of Walsh’s budget for fiscal year 2020, released this week. It will create an additional 750 seats for 4-year-olds, using a mixed delivery system to distribute the students between Boston Public Schools and community organizations, including ABCD Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA.

All of the non-BPS programs abide by a set of standards to ensure equity and quality of education, according to city officials. Criteria include requiring that all teachers have a degree in early education, are prepared to teach in “inclusive” classrooms that accommodate students with disabilities, and earn the same starting salary as a BPS teacher; using the BPS pre-K curriculum, which focuses on math and literacy and provides extra support for students with special needs; adhering to a classroom ratio of no more than 20 students per two teachers; and having accreditation by a national accrediting body.

BPS’ early education programs are nationally recognized and use a child-centric, play-based curriculum that has been shown to improve development and academic learning among students. The majority of the district’s pre-K programs have been accredited by National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Students who have been through the BPS early education program have been shown to score higher on the MCAS in both math and English in elementary school.

“The Boston Public Schools early childhood educators are pioneering what pre-kindergarten can and should look like nationwide,” said BPS Interim Superintendent Laura Perille. “Through the Quality Pre-K Fund, we are providing more access and flexibility for families of 4-year-olds that will help to close opportunity and achievement gaps and set up our youngest learners for long-term educational success.”

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, head of the council’s education committee, applauded Walsh’s announcement, saying that the establishment of a universal pre-K system will help families in need, who often have trouble finding affordable childcare.

“Within our existing early education and care system, access to high-quality pre-K can create significant disparities and continues to be a leading factor in the opportunity and achievement gap, particularly for students that come from low-income households,” Essaibi-George said. “The mayor’s investment in high-quality universal pre-K is an important step forward to provide all our kids with an equal foundation for academic success.”

The city has invested money into the program every year since Walsh took office in 2014, the same year that he created the Universal Pre-K Advisory Committee. At that time, the city had a deficit of 1,500 pre-K seats. That number has since gone down to just the 750 this investment is expected to fill. In 2017, the city appointed its first Universal Pre-K director, TeeAra Dias.

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