Details of City Funded Universal Preschool for Beachwood Residents
Next Thursday (October 14, 2o21) at 7pm, there is a Beachwood City Council committee meeting where a plan for the creation of a City funded universal preschool program will be discussed. The details of the plan were released today and you can read them by clicking here. Before I go into the issues I have with this plan, I think it is important to state where I stand on the general concept of universal free preschool.
I believe every child should be able to attend preschool regardless of their family’s income. However, I also believe every child should live in a home with working heat in the winter and that shouldn’t be dependent on their family’s income but I have never heard anyone make a competent argument that the best way to address that issue and help the families that struggle to pay their heating bill is to have their local municipality pay every resident’s heating bill.
At the end of this blog I will present an idea/solution which is far from flushed out, but when it is I believe will be realistic, easily implemented and have a cost that will be acceptable to the community whose taxes have to fund it. Before I go into that, here are the clear problems with the plan proposed today.
The plan acknowledges the program's cost may increase to $1m a year if enrollment grows to its capacity of 130 children. Here is what was overlooked that makes these assumptions, of which the plan is based, unrealistic.
The Fairmount building has a 3 year old pre-school program, a 4 year old pre-k program, and a young 5’s program. If the capacity is 130 total students, even if they were forced to get rid of the young 5's program to allow more kids in the other two programs, that would still have a capacity of 65 kids per age year. However, we are kidding ourselves if we don't acknowledge that is is likely that 90% or more of the 95-120 families that eventually enroll their kids in kindergarten at Bryden will want to send their kids to Fairmount for preschool and pre-k if it were free or even discounted 50%.
In short, the capacity isn't close to high enough for just the number of kids that end up going to Bryden, without including the families that don't plan on sending their kids to Bryden but would want to send them to this program at Fairmount and save $8k a year for two years, nor is this including the young families that would supposedly move to Beachwood for this program, that only has around half the capacity for all the resident that would want this benefit.
Even if the cost wasn't the issue, since this is a city funded program, how are we going to tell a resident they can’t get this benefit, that will save them $8k a year for two years, that we are giving to other residents, because there are only so many spots?
Here is a potential solution I would have suggested if the process to create this plan was done in an open process where anyone would have been invited to participate.
The County has a program in place that a family of four with income up to $106k a year qualifies which reimburses them between 33%-50% of tuition costs (depending on their income) at approved preschools. Ganon Gil is currently on that list. Other school district sponsored preschool programs like Fairmount are on that list, but Fairmount currently is not on that list.
The first thing we should do is figure out the requirements to get the Fairmount program on that list. While I don’t think the City of Beachwood should be part of the process of who qualifies for this program, which entails verifying income and need, we could piggy back off the County program. If a Beachwood family qualifies for assistance from the County program, we can create a City funded program to close a percentage of the gap that is left.
I understand that universal free preschool is in place in other countries and it may happen in this country one day. In a perfect world there would be a lot of things besides access to preschool that a child’s access to is not dependent on their family’s financial circumstances. However, we live in the real world and even if we had so much extra money that we could afford a program to pay for preschool for the child of every Beachwood residents, the Fairmount building doesn’t have the capacity for it.
I believe every child, regardless of their family's finances, should be able to attend preschool and not just because it better prepares them for kindergarten, but also to levels the playing field for those from less fortunate circumstances. Free preschool for everyone, instead of assistance to those that qualify due to need, doesn't accomplish that.
I think the community is much more likely to embrace a city funded program that piggy backs on the county program and gives a couple dozen families, who qualified based on income and need, $1k-$2k a year to help close the gap the county program didn’t cover. I don't blame residents for rejecting a program that gives 200-300 families $8k a year, that isn't based on income or need.
What's most astonishing about this entire thing is the people who crafted this plan, under the guise that access to preschool for financially challenged families is so important, are also the same people who have set the City's economic development strategy based on giving away 30 year non school property tax abatements where the majority of the money given away comes from money that would go to the County to fund important social service programs like the one assisting families in need pay for preschool.
As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts and feedback. You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 216-832-6771. Have a good weekend,