Oct 26, 2022 - News

Des Moines school district officials unveil preschool expansion plan

Illustration of child’s hand putting puzzle together of a school desk.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Six full-day, preschool classrooms would be added to Des Moines Public Schools next year under a proposal district officials made to the city council this week.

Why it matters:DMPS students' test scores lag other districts and access to quality, early education could help improve them.

  • Students who completed preschool have statistically significant higher likelihood of meeting math and reading benchmarks throughout their elementary school years, Susie Guest, the district's early childhood director, told the council.

State of play: DMPS already offers free universal preschool, which is part of a state-funded and voluntary part-time program. It offers 4-year-olds in DSM with three hours of classroom time each school day.

  • Full-day options are available but they can cost parents more than $100 a week.
  • Of note: The state only requires 10 hours of preschool time be offered weekly.

Context: District officials have for years warned that the majority of its 4-year-olds lack access to preschool each year.

  • The logistics of the half-day options can be difficult for working families, some who can't afford before- or after-care programs.
  • Fewer than 40% of the district's kindergarten students attended preschool last year through DMPS or one of the district's early childhood program partners.

Driving the news: The Des Moines City Council this year allocated $4.9 million of federal pandemic relief to childcare but has not yet determined what programs would get the money.

  • DMPS' proposal would expand preschool over the next three school years.

Details: The plan would open 120 free, full-time preschool spots for children of low-income families. And it would offer "wrap around" child care to better assist working parents' schedules.

  • The classes would be added to some of the district's elementary schools with specific locations determined by enrollment needs.

Zoom in: DMPS additionally partners with private preschool providers at more than a dozen sites across the city, like those run by a catholic diocese.

  • The city's allocation of the nearly $5 million would also help those groups expand access to full-day preschool and childcare, Guest said.

What's next: The city council could vote as early as next month on the proposal.

  • In a separate request, Des Moines Public Library is seeking $1 million of the money allocated for childcare to expand an early literacy program.

Of note: Nearly 270 students remain on a waitlist for DMPS' Metro Kids Care before- and after school programs, spokesperson Amanda Lewis told Axios Tuesday.

  • School officials are trying to hire about 55 staffers so it can reopen the program at three elementary schools.
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