The Portland school board has approved a multimillion dollar plan doubling the district’s pre-K program to about 260 students over the next five years through a mix of on-site and off-site locations.

“This is a really important step forward,” board member Emily Figdor said.

Portland now spends about $800,000 to serve 124 pre-K students in eight classrooms.

The expansion, approved in a board vote Tuesday night, adds 140 students in nine classrooms and will serve about half the 4-year-olds in Portland. The students will be in five pre-K classrooms in district buildings and four more classrooms at community partner sites.

Under the proposed expansion, the pre-K program will cost an estimated $3 million.

“This is a giant leap in the right direction,” board member Anna Trevorrow said. “It will be the most ambitious step we’ve taken on pre-K in a decade.”

Figdor and others are forming a committee to identify a “local dedicated funding source” for the program. The state offers some pre-K funds to districts, and Gov. Janet Mills and other legislators have said supporting those programs is a top priority.

BENEFITS OF EARLY EDUCATION

Universal pre-K helps all students, research shows, but it particularly benefits low-income children who may not have the same benefits of middle- and upper-income children, such as language-rich environments, adequate food and medical care, and experience socializing with groups of peers. In Maine, one-third of children under 6 are in low-income households.

The Portland program will serve students that reflect the district’s demographics, with about 55 percent of students from low-income households.

Despite broad agreement on the merits of early education, Maine has no mandate for it and only a handful of districts offer truly universal pre-K – open to any 4-year-old in the district who wants to attend. That’s in part because it is costly and, after years of consolidation, many districts no longer have the physical space for it.

ELEMENTS OF THE PLAN

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Figdor tried to double the proposal to achieve universal pre-K open to all 4-year-olds in Portland, but her effort failed on a 4-4 vote.

The final motion passed 7-1 with Laurie Davis dissenting. District 1 board member Micky Bondo, who sits on the board of The Opportunity Alliance, one of the community partners involved in expansion plans, voted for the proposal. In February, Bondo recused herself from voting when she sat on the three-member board subcommittee developing a recommendation for the board.

Elements of the plan include:

• Staffing all classrooms, both in school buildings and at partner agencies, with Portland Public Schools teachers and education technicians.

• Offering before- and after-care on a sliding payment scale.

• Providing Metro bus vouchers in the first year for students and families from low-income households and developing a plan for transportation by the next budget cycle.

• District staff providing “a robust, on-going” evaluation process of the program, including proposals to achieve universal pre-K.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: noelinmaine


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