Spokane Public Schools adds more than 200 preschool slots, but gaps remain

<p><p>Spokane Public Schools is steadily expanding its early learning program but still hasn’t caught up with the need.</p></p><p><p>During a presentation to the school board Wednesday night, staff said more than 200 additional preschool slots have been added in various categories.</p></p><p><p>“However, there’s no doubt that we still have a lot of underserved kids,” Superintendent Adam Swinyard said.</p></p><p><p>The decline of affordable child care in Spokane has placed added pressure on school districts to fill the gap. It’s estimated that the Spokane Public School district boundaries contain about 1,500 4-year-olds who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and that most of them need child care.</p></p><p><p>Fortunately, the upcoming move of sixth-graders to middle school will free some classrooms for preschool.</p></p><p><p>“Our next step is to look for continued options,” said Becky Ramsey, the district’s director of special education. “We are working with accounting and capital projects teams, looking at growing and where can we grow.”</p></p><p><p>The district is off to a strong start.</p></p><p><p>Last year, it offered 336 preschool slots, of which 168 were earmarked for developmentally disabled children, another 120 through The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) and 48 though Head Start.</p></p><p><p>This year, the district is offering 538 spots. Of those, 108 are for the full day. The district also has added 40 traditional kindergarten spots.</p></p><p><p>Staffing has increased proportionately, from 47 last year to 71, and hiring staff hasn’t been a significant problem, Ramsey said.</p></p><p><p>Apart from paraeducators, filling new positions hasn’t been a major problem, Ramsey said.</p></p><p><p>The district offers four programs this year:</p></p><p><ul><li>Developmental A.M./P.M. Preschool for students with individualized education plans offered in three-hour sessions four days a week at Frances Scott, Linwood, Madison and Stevens elementary schools.</li><li>ECEAP/Head Start Preschool, with the same schedule, for those qualifying through income and “risk factors,” at Scott, Holmes, Linwood, Regal, Roosevelt, Stevens and Whitman elementary schools, and two community centers.</li><li>ECEAP Preschool, a four-day offering for 6½ hours a day at Grant, Lincoln Heights, Logan, Regal and Whitman elementary schools.</li><li>Transitional kindergarten, a state-funded pilot program this year that begins in January, five days a week for 6½ hours a day, at Holmes and Woodridge elementary schools.</li></ul></p><p><p>“This is about giving them the best chance at life,” said Karin Thompson, elementary curriculum director for the district.</p></p><p><p>The programs are considered crucial in building kindergarten readiness, a chronic problem in Spokane.</p></p><p><p>Partly because of the lack of preschool education, Spokane’s kindergarten readiness in 2019 was only 32.8%, or about 20 percentage points below schools in Western Washington.</p></p><p><p>Kindergarten readiness also is significantly higher in Central Valley (64.7%), Cheney (56.3%), East Valley (40.4%) and Mead (48.1%) school districts than in Spokane.</p></p><p><p>ECEAP provides comprehensive preschool, health and family services at no cost to eligible 3- and 4-year-old children and their families. The goal is to help children enter kindergarten ready to succeed. ECEAP programs are offered throughout Spokane County.</p></p><p><p>Head Start provides comprehensive preschool, health and family services at no cost to eligible children and their low-income families. Head Start programs are available at many locations in the Spokane urban area.</p></p><p><p>Special education preschools are located throughout the district and serve students 3-5 years old who are eligible.</p></p><p><p>Spokane Public Schools preschool programs are taught by certificated preschool special education teachers.</p></p>