In order to accommodate families’ desires for full-day care, Oregon’s largest school district switched more than 400 part-time Head Start spots to full-time status this fall, reducing the number of seats.
According to Portland Public Schools Head Start Director Robert Cantwell, 70% of the 648 full-day Head Start slots have been filled thus far, compared to slightly over half of the 720 Head Start spots from the previous school year.
The district has struggled in recent years to attract and keep students, as some families were hesitant to send their kids back to in-person classrooms during the pandemic and others opted to enroll them in other tuition-free programs that provide full-day care. This decision to make all Head Start slots full-day comes as a result.
Numerous brand-new openings in the majority of full-day, high-quality preschools targeted toward children have been made possible by two relatively recent taxpayer-funded programs. After overcoming setbacks, the state’s Preschool Promise program will offer around 600 seats in Multnomah County, while Preschool for All, a new county program adopted by voters, launched 687 new spaces this month.
All three preschool programs target children from low-income families and cater to 3- and 4-year-olds. Very low-income children are the main target of Head Start.
The heightened competitiveness for enrolment was mentioned in a document to the Portland school board describing the justification for transitioning to fewer but longer Head Start slots.
The long-running Head Start program at Portland Public Schools lost 112 slots when it switched from half-day to full-day instruction while keeping the same number of classrooms. It also saw a decrease in class sizes from 20 to 18, which is the same limit as for Preschool Promise and Preschool for All classrooms.
According to Emily Glasgow, executive director of pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade academics at Portland Public Schools, “it’s what families have been requesting for years.” In full-day preschool, research indicates that kids advance further and more quickly because of the extra learning
District administrators explained their rationale for the adjustment in a memo.
Both federal and state money is given to the district for Head Start. Portland Public Schools received an additional $500,000 from the Oregon Early Learning Division this year.
A portion of the money went toward hiring a full-time mental health consultant to work alongside a group of five other professionals who support Head Start kids and families, according to Cantwell. In order to continue allowing toddlers to play outside once the rainy season arrives, the district also plans to construct a covered outdoor space at its Sacajawea Head Start facility.
With this extra money, “We have a much richer program now,” Cantwell added. “Head Start, families, and the district all benefit in this situation.”