Tangipahoa seeking to expand Pre-K programs

The Tangipahoa Parish school system is looking into expanding prekindergarten programs at schools across the parish.

School Board Vice President Brett Duncan asked fellow board members Feb. 11 to approve a resolution calling on Superintendent Mark Kolwe’s office to develop cost estimates for expanding the programs.

The board passed the resolution unanimously. Several board members voiced their support for the proposed expansion, saying it would give children a smoother transition into kindergarten.

“When a child starts ahead, they stay ahead,” board President Andy Anderson said.

Kolwe said Monday that staffers met Friday to begin investigating the cost of the expansion, which he expects will be “pretty significant.”

Kolwe said he supports the expansion because other nearby school districts with universal pre-K programs have better school performance scores.

“The tests and the data shows that kids that have had the opportunity to have the good pre-K education that we offer, they’re very much more likely to succeed when they get to the third grade and they start taking the state assessment tests,” Kolwe said.

Only 13 of the parish’s 34 schools offer any kind of pre-K classes, Kolwe said.

Combined, those schools offer 40 regular pre-K classes and five “blended” classes, which includes regular and special education pre-K students.

Kolwe said his staff hopes to finalize a more comprehensive report about pre-K expansion by around March.

Duncan said last week that only Tangipahoa parents whose children are eligible for free or reduced lunches, or fall below a certain poverty threshold, qualify for pre-K classes.

Duncan said the parish can offer pre-K classes to them because the school system receives federal funding for such students.

He said the parish also receives a “hodgepodge” of state funding for the pre-K classes.

Duncan said he’s not sure how many schools offer pre-K programs.

“It’s not just about the schools,” Duncan said. “Sometimes it’s the number of classes that might be available ... Sometimes it’s the number of slots. Right now, it’s a fairly limited number of slots.”

Duncan said he hopes to find a way to offer pre-K to students who don’t qualify for the free or reduced lunches.

Duncan said he’s not sure of a cost of expanding the programs. He said a teacher usually costs the parish $60,000 annually in salaries and benefits, and a paraprofessional costs $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

Board members on Feb. 11 tossed out the idea of developing a plan that lets parents whose children don’t qualify for free or reduced lunches pay a fee for pre-K classes.

Duncan noted that the Central Community School System in East Baton Rouge Parish asks parents to pay such a fee for pre-K classes.