For the past 4 years, Metro Nashville Public Schools has offered free universal public preschool for 4-year-olds at 3 Early Learning Centers: Ross, Ivanetta Davis, and Casa Azafran. The program was funded by a federal grant. However, the grant runs out this year. The school district budget and the city budget will be finalized soon, and beginning next school year, this program will no longer be free for all students. The district is implementing a sliding scale fee structure. Here is a link to the district's announcement about the decision.
There has been little opportunity for public comment on this decision, which has absolutely blindsided parents. The sliding scale fee was announced only a few weeks before families will apply for pre-k. In the past few years, families have come to depend on this program, and on it being free for everyone. Sliding scale fees are more equitable than flat fees, but obviously they decrease access when compared to a universal free program. The most recent sliding scale fee chart (link here) shows fees that are absolutely out of reach for most middle-income families. For example, most district teachers with employed spouses would fall into the very highest income bracket. With sliding scale fees like these, the people who fall through the cracks are the families who are neither rich enough to pay the fee the district expects of them, nor poor enough to qualify for a fee they can actually afford.
We believe that preschool is a vital part of a basic education, which means it should be free and accessible to all students. To make this possible, the district must submit to city council a budget that fully funds universal pre-k, and city council must fully fund the school district's budget.
A city budget is a document that expresses the values of its citizens. Nashville values children and education. City council and the school board must listen to parents, and fully fund universal preschool.
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