Saturday, May 5, 2012


As mentioned in the last blog, West Chester was recipient to approximately $450,000 in grant money through the Keystone to Opportunity grant funds made possible through the state's  receipt of $38 million  from the federal Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program. The money would benefit six local pre-school entities, helping to ensure that all children in the district would be afforded the opportunity to enter kindergarten armed with strong literacy skills -  a positive impact for the entire community.  The understanding is that the following programs would benefit from receipt of the grant money:

Advent Lutheran Preschool
Dilworthtown Christian
Aardvark Childcare & Preschool
West Chester Daycare Center
West Chester Play School
Chester County IU Headstart Program

There are disturbing “rumblings” in the community that West Chester has made the decision to decline the Keystone to Opportunity grant.  Why, we ask?  Unfortunately there has been no public comment from the board or administration, but the “word” is that the District policy on grant applications was not followed. In addition, if the grant money is accepted, the District will ultimately need to offset that “revenue” with expenses, not necessarily this year, but in subsequent years of the grant.  Some background on KtO grant: Pennsylvania was awarded $38.6 million for one year, presented by the United States Department of Education (USDOE) as a 5-year project.  Funding for years 2-5 is contingent on continued funding by the USDOE.  West Chester was fortunate to receive a 2- year grant, with years 3,4, 5 dependent on availability of federal funds.

Realistically, one  cannot imagine what a difficult position this decision puts our district in. As leaders in education, our administration must decide whether to take the grant money in hopes of ensuring kindergarten readiness for “at-risk” students in the district  OR succumb to the Board’s condition to find and  cut established district K-12 programs to offset the grant revenue?    Sadly but understandably, the latter decision will most likely prevail, once again demonstrating the critical role school board directors play in influencing a district's educational vision. Regardless of the decision,  we must continue to commend the administration for applying for this grant, for whoever applied for this grant had the best interests of our children and community in mind. Whoever applied for this grant is obviously well aware of  the numerous studies linking early childhood education/literacy with better outcomes for students entering our K-12 system.  Whoever applied for this grant is aware of the “preventive” nature of such early childhood literacy programs and the fact that they can, in the long run, possibly decrease remediation costs for children who will ultimately enter the WCASD in kindergarten.  Thank you to all involved for your leadership and vision in applying.

In addition, we implore those  members choosing to serve on the Education and Pupil Services committees - who must also be well aware of the above mentioned studies and long-term implications of this grant -  to do everything in their power to find a way to accept this grant with minimal impact to the budget, if not this year than next.  In the past, through the formation of community task forces, the entire West Chester community has demonstrated its commitment to being fiscally responsible while maintaining the educational integrity of its programs.  As a community, we cannot overlook the impact these funds could have in ensuring children entering our district schools will be well prepared for our programs.
 rt examines the work of three state school board associations
What does now become a bit clearer to those of us in attendance at last week’s school board meeting is why the news of this grant was not mentioned by any board or administration member.  Never having been made “public” by the board, declining this grant can pass quietly with minimum community involvement.   When confronted, the Board can blame the administration for not “following policy” in applying for the grant.    Either way, the  Board remains safe in having adopted a 2012/13 budget, including a 1.7% tax increase, and can continue to commend themselves on the consistent years of cutting/staying “flat” with expenses regardless of the amount of revenue received. 

On a positive endnote, this grant,  if declined, will go to  another equally, or perhaps more, deserving district  - still a “win” for early childhood education in Pennsylvania.   
However, each of us is encouraged to find out more facts about the receipt of this grant and contact the board for a more thorough and public explanation.  And continue to thank and congratulate those in our administration who had the vision and foresight to apply for this grant.   Personally, I am remaining optimistic that what we hear about the grant are simply “rumblings” and the issue will not become yet another storm that divides this community.

Please check out “Thinking P-12: The School Board Role in Pre-K education”, published for the Center for Public Education . It analyzes the impact of  2-year grants in 2006 awarded to school boards in Kansas, Ohio and Texas, in order to expand school board member awareness of pre-k and better involve them in state pre-K policy. No joking, but perhaps the Board can investigate if grants such as these still exist to help all in the community better understand the importance of early childhood education programs in our District.“ re

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