A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Understanding Preschool Expansion

The Fall 2009 issue of Common Ground includes the following article on the state-mandated expansion of preschool for low-income children in New Jersey. It will provide you with some important background information that should help you understand the Matawan Aberdeen School Board's recent decision, described in The Independent, not to renew the lease of the Bayshore Jointure Commission's Developmental Learning Center at 1 Crest Way. (As an aside, better facilities are fine but a weak reason for this Bayshore organization to move to Tinton Falls, completely outside of its service area. No doubt there is more to that particular story.)

Here is the article from Common Ground, mentioned above, writtten by Cynthia Rice and Kathleen Priestly of the Association for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ):

In January 2008, Governor Corzine signed into law a new state school funding formula that included a significant expansion of high quality, state-funded preschool for low-income children. Modeled after the nationally recognized Abbott Preschool Program, currently providing over 40,000 three- and four- year-olds living in New Jersey’s lowest income school districts access to high quality preschool, this expansion represents an opportunity for an additional 30,000 preschoolers to participate in a program that is proving to make a difference in the educational lives of young children.

A portion of the new preschoolers to benefit from the preschool expansion are low-income children classified as preschool disabled. When fully implemented in 2013-2014, school districts will be able to provide preschool disabled children with increased access to inclusive preschool settings.

Districts with a high concentration of poor families will be required to offer a preschool program to all three- and four-year-olds. Districts with fewer low-income families will be required to offer the program only to those children whose families meet income eligibility requirements.

The preschool expansion initiative will not affect eligibility for preschool disabled services. As is now the case, children with disabilities who are eligible for special education will receive services regardless of family income.

Whether preschool disabled or typicallydeveloping, all eligible children will have access to a full, six-hour day, five-day-a-week program, implemented by each school district and fully funded by the state. The program will affect preschool disabled children in two important ways:

First, it will provide them with a guarantee of additional hours of instruction above the current minimum described in state and federal law, and as dictated by the children’s IEPs. Second, because of the size of the expansion, additional classrooms will be required in order to provide program access to eligible children. This means that school districts will have new opportunities to provide integrated classrooms for preschoolers with disabilities. There are various models of inclusion that districts may find appropriate for their preschool population.

Depending on the model of inclusion, the expansion will include the quality components that have been part of the Abbott program, including a class size of no more than 15 children, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree trained to teach young children, a teacher’s aide, family workers and/or social workers to help families, and a research-based curriculum.

Every district will have a different approach to making sure there is adequate classroom space. Districts can offer their program in a variety of ways, including in-district classrooms, classrooms located in licensed child care centers, classrooms located in Head Start centers, or in a combination of these locations. This “mixed delivery system” has been very successful in the Abbott districts, where 65% of the three- and four-year-olds attend preschool in licensed child care and Head Start classrooms. Many preschool disabled children in Abbott districts attend inclusive settings in their community.

School districts are required to establish a preschool-through-third-grade Early Childhood Advisory Council to review preschool program implementation and to support transition as children move from preschool through grade three. While implementing a high quality program will have positive effects on participating children, preschool services must be planned with an eye toward future learning experiences. Coordinated programs that link preschool with the early elementary years and special education are crucial to obtaining positive outcomes for children. Districts’ early childhood advisory councils will be set-up to think globally in order to maximize program impact during the childrens’ early learning years.

What can parents do?

While the preschool expansion initiative is part of the state’s new school funding formula, the FY 2010 state budget included no money for that expansion. School districts may use some of their dollars from the federal stimulus package for preschool, but only a handful will actually do so. School districts need to
hear from parents and other people in the community that preschool expansion is critical to the educational success of students; and that the initiative provides preschoolers with disabilities increased opportunities to attend high quality,
inclusive programs.

Getting Involved
  • Learn the status of your district’s Early Childhood Advisory Council and offer to participate.
  • Ask your school district about its preschool expansion plan.
  • Tell your school board that you support preschool expansion.
  • Visit a quality, inclusive preschool classroom.
  • Spread the word! Talk to other parents about the expansion.
  • Stay informed!  

For further information, check the following websites:


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