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BUSD To Consider Dumping All Pre-K Extended Day Programs--
Goodbye 2020 Vision to Close Achievement Gap! (Partisan Position)

By Pablo Paredes
Tuesday April 26, 2011 - 09:40:00 AM

My Name is Pablo Paredes and I am a parent of a child in one of the last four remaining extended day programs in BUSD's Pre-K system (attached is a photo where my son interacts with his exclusively students of color classroom). I am also the Chair of the School Governance Council for the three Berkeley Preschools. I was shocked to learn that in order to address the 15 % state mandated budget cuts and 10% reduction in per pupil reimbursement the strategy that staff will submit for approval by the BUSD Board next [today], Wednesday, is to cut the last remaining four classrooms that offer extended care for Pre-schools in Berkeley. Maybe even the last of their kind in the state. This is a major issue for families of color in Berkeley. A quick site visit at Hopkins, King or Franklin CDC to the 9.5 hour classrooms will reveal classrooms that almost exclusively serve working poor families of color and these are the classrooms on the chopping block. 

2008 began for Berkeley with a wake up call about racial inequity in our schools learning that Berkeley Unified boasted the highest racial achievement gap in the state and that at Berkeley High there was one Black student enrolled in AP courses (despite a 3000 plus student body). A Black Youth Conference at Berkeley high was soon held at which District folks made 3 promises the first and most important was to address the achievement gap by focusing resources on Kindergarden readiness in other words investing in Pre-K programs especially those who serve disproportionately students of color such as the 9.5 hour classrooms aka extended hours. 

The response to a lot of bad media and the vehicle to fulfill promises like those made to black Berkeley High Youth was the 2020 Vision which was supposed to look to erase the achievement Gap by 2020. One of its three planning lenses was an early childhood development lens. One of its four task forces were specifically supposed to address 0-5 year old factors the primary area of focus for this group was strengthening access to and quality of a pre-school experience for students of color. However by the end of the Year the recession was on everyone's mind and suddenly the 2020 vision commitments seemed irrelevant to the decisions being made. By 2010 BUSD had handled a round of state and federal budget cuts at the Preschool level by reducing many of the extended care classrooms to 3 and 6.5 hour programs. The key difference between the former and both of the later is that the extended day programs cater almost exclusively to children of color where as the 3 and 6 hour programs are where many of the white parents are concentrated meaning BUSD, now a year after planning the 2020 vision, is considering decisive steps that increase the Achievement Gap. 

Now that BUSD is down to only 4 extended day Pre-K classrooms serving 96 families from over 8 or more classrooms and at one point serving over 300 families with extended care - the plan being looked at is to put a nail in the coffin of the 2020 Vision by chopping all four of the remaining extended care pre-k classrooms. In effect, the entire 15% budget cut at the preschool level would be shouldered by classrooms that serve predominantly children of color. To give you a sense of how clear the class lines of this cut are, look no further than the very write up for the BUSD meeting in the Board packet from staff in which they admit that after this cut they will struggle to find Head Start program eligible families so they are cutting their ties with Head Start as well. (write up is attached here and available at the BUSD website as well) 

Why is this relevant to the Achievement Gap? Well beyond the fact that children of color will shoulder the entire budget cut we have to be clear about the importance of pre-school toward impacting the achievement gap. According to Jacqueline Jones of the U.S. Department of Education's early learning office every $1 dollar spent on early childhood ed is worth seven because children who attend prekindergarten are more likely to not need remedial education, to graduate from high school, to go to college and to have higher-paying jobs that produce more taxes. 

We have already seen how Berkeley is failing black students with the dismal enrollment of black students in AP courses at Berkeley High but the situation for Latin@ families and Early Childhood education is uniquely disturbing due to language issues. 

To quote Bruce Fuller a professor of Education and Public Policy @ UC Berkeley and the author of a study on Latino children and Pre-school, “We know that quality preschool lifts the early literacy and social skills of Latino children, especially those from Spanish-speaking homes. So, as fewer Latino kids benefit from preschool, they will experience less success as they move through school.” 

This Wednesday the Board will consider an approach to the state mandated budget cuts that will exacerbate the achievement gap. No other options are being explored. The City of Berkeley committed to work with BUSD to implement 2020 but they are not being tapped to save the PRE-K classrooms that do the most to impact the achievement gap. Programs like BPEF are not being tapped. Creative ways to use BSEP money are not being explored. Before taking a way a key lifeline to our lowest income Berkeley families and feeding the monster known as the "achievement Gap" we should leave no stone unturned but currently we are on route to cutting this lifeline without turning a single stone. 

I am writing in hopes you may cover this story which is going unnoticed. I am organizing with parents to have a presence at the Board Meeting next Wednesday, also meeting with city council folks to seek city support, also with union members to see if there are compromises that can be made to keep serving these children, and other possible stake holders. 

Feel free to call me @ 510-967-1357.