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District Plans to Tap K-12 Funds to Open and Operate ‘Private’ District Preschools

By Ann Thanawalla

Free money is what we call the $1.6 million in Head Start money that currently provides seats and meals to over one third of our District’s preschoolers.

The District’s plan to eliminate Head Start means dozens of minority kids are de-funded and unseated by a switch to our Private (Seaside) program.

The District suggests that local Head Start kids' seats get funded from an $800,000 grab from K-12 this year. Future preschool needs will require increased annual draws from K-12 budgets.

This plan is fiscally irresponsible, unfair to K-12 students and families and unfair to the fully federally funded kids enrolled in the program.

If approved by the School Board tonight, the District’s current deficit, as portrayed in the December Interim Budget Report, will increase from $2.55 million to $3.35 million.

The District says it’s having difficulty finding students for the Head Start program. It does not appear to be receiving referrals from Connections for Children.

The City of Santa Monica grants over $1 million annually to Connections for Children to help place local kids in daycare and preschool. Connections is local to Santa Monica and provides referrals for the entire West Side.

To make up for the deficit in preschool age children, LACOE has provided the District with the opportunity to serve younger children through their Early Head Start program. The District is serving 8 Early Head Start children this year.

Does the District view these opportunities as more bites at the apple toward closing the achievement gap?

Seaside Preschools, are run by the Santa Monica Malibu School District. These three schools operate like PRIVATE preschools co-located on PUBLIC school property.

Seaside charges $100 for an application and full time tuition fees exceed $15,000+/year. There is No Residency Requirement. Seats are distributed first come/first serve, and principals at Grant, Edison and Cabrillo do not oversee these preschools.

The intent is to roll out another 14 Seaside classrooms over the next five years using GS money to complete design, construction, etc. In addition to Fee for Service seats, some resident and non-resident children will be subsidized with local and State dollars.

This sets up a game of musical chairs with wait lines and savvy opportunists winning seats intended for disadvantaged children. Worst though, is that this plan leaves behind dozens of currently enrolled Head Start minority children who cannot pay to return.

Head Start has a five year funding cycle so the Head Start operators make five year applications to ensure the money will be available for all five years. Funds are disbursed annually.

There are no penalties if an operator decides to withdraw from the Head Start program after year one, two, three, etc. Therefore, the District should follow a responsible path and renew Head Start today.

Spend the free money on the kids. If the legislature agrees with Governor Newsom’s plans to expand preschool throughout the state, money will flow into the City or District to fund a vision for preschools that includes community input and opportunity for all children.

Ann Thanawalla is a long-time participant in Santa Monica’s education, arts and business communities


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