By Terry Dean
District 97 is poised to commit roughly a quarter of a million dollars to help fund the Collaboration for Early Childhood's broad initiative to reach at-risk kids.
D97 plans to commit $248,000 in start-up funds toward the Collaboration's proposed early childhood care support system. The group hopes to have the support network in place for Oak Park and River Forest by 2016.
The Collaboration is working with, and seeking support from, various Oak Park taxing bodies. The village of Oak Park has committed about $115,000 in start-up money for the effort. Members of the Collaboration estimate that a fully implemented system will cost roughly $1.5 million. The group is continuing to seek public and private funding for the effort.
D97 school trustees and Collaboration members discussed the initiative at D97's regular board meeting on Jan. 8. The support system is expected to include improved early childhood developmental screening. Another goal would be to better link pre-school programs with those in elementary schools.
The $248,000 will be an annual cost during the "ramp up" period until the system is fully implemented, explained D97 board President Peter Barber.
The support system would also require ongoing financial support from the taxing bodies once implemented, paid in a proportional share based on their respective operating budgets. An intergovernmental agreement between the Collaboration and governmental bodies would need to be reached before that happens.
The D97 board on Jan. 22 is scheduled to vote on a formal resolution directing the superintendent to develop the school district's agreement. They'll also direct the administration to move forward with allocating the funding.
D97 board members were generally supportive of the initiative, but they had questions about aspects of the proposed system. The Collaboration is planning to create a database of children in its program, and board member Amy Felton wondered if that database could be used to track how the kids are doing after age five.
"I just want to make sure that we're continuing to not track but keep tabs on our children and see how they're doing," Felton said.
Executive Director Carolyn Newberry-Schwartz responded that a committee of Collaboration members is working on the database.
Newberry-Schwartz also talked about a "P-20" system. She said that model, where children are monitored from pre-kindergarten through age 20, is being discussed among child care providers nationally.
The state of Illinois, however, is somewhat behind in developing such a model due to its fiscal difficulties and other issues, she said.
Newberry-Schwartz noted that providers in Oak Park are also talking about how to utilize that specific model.
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