This morning, a friend told me that Ebinger and Edison Park canceled their PFA programs for Fall 2009. After a round of half-informed conjecture among 3 interested would-be PFA parents this morning, and a thorough review of posts on NPN about the subject, I called the Office of Early Childhood Education (773-553-2010) for the real scoop.
I spoke with a very nice man, Christopher Rosine, who directs the PFA program for CPS. He clearly (and very patiently, I might add!) answered all of my questions -- and there were a lot, as would be true of anyone with a vested interest and/or a journalistic background.
First, he said that it his office's goal to keep all of their current PFA programs open in the fall (which, for those of you keeping track at home, is in 6 weeks). He mentioned this point several times during our conversation.
He reiterated what I already knew: that the State Board of Education met on Tuesday and cut 32% of the funding stream for early childhood programs. But what I didn't know was that this cut affects not only PFA, but birth to 3 programs, and Early Intervention, the social service that evaluates and works to correct children's behavioral, speech, gross motor, fine motor and other skills delays. CPS and the Office of Early Childhood Education does not yet know what percentage of the Early Childhood Block Grant will be for Chicago's PFA program versus these other programs. If there are insufficient funds, they will either find resources within CPS to keep the program, or go outside for alternate funding options. Unfortunately, Mr. Rosine said, his office does not yet know what, if any, the shortfall will be, and therefore cannot go shopping for funds. He expects Springfield to notify his office within the next 2 weeks.
If they have enough funding, no programs will be cut. As it stands now, the program pays for a teacher and assistant for each school's PFA, plus room supplies and furnishings when a preschool first opens. If they do not have enough money, cannot reallocate funds from within CPS, or cannot find an outside source of funds, two things can happen:
1. Schools can choose to convert their programs to a 1/2 day tuition-based preschool. In this scenario, each school would administer the program at the school-level, collecting annual tuition of $3500-$4000 from parents. According to posts on NPN, Audubon is considering such a program; per Mrs. Stone, Disney II has said that it does not have the resources to do so.
2. They will cut PFA programs. Mr. Rosine said that they'll use the overall school community statistics to determine which programs to cut. Because the state has mandated that PFA serves at-risk for school failure children first, and a significant indicator of at-risk children is economic status, those programs that serve a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged children are more likely to retain their programs, whether they offer 8 PFA classes (like Belding) or 2 (like Disney II). His office uses the percentage of free and reduced lunch participants at a school to determine at-risk status. However, he said that a number of schools with a 100% free/reduced meal rate have already been converted to Head Start programs (which are federally funded -- and they have money) and they have plans to convert another 1000 slots to Head Start before the fall.
Fingers crossed that the Office of Early Education makes its goal for Fall 2009.