Parents applaud more funding for preschool; experts say it will benefit society

Published: Dec. 10, 2014 at 11:05 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 11, 2014 at 12:15 AM CST
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New Orleans is one of six communities that will share in millions coming from the federal government to help more low-income children start their formal education earlier, and some experts said that could pay big dividends in terms of steering inner city children away from a path of poverty and crime.

Sade' Johnson said she is eager to find an early education program for her toddler son.

"They're telling me, 'Oh, we're too full, fill out the paper work.' When I fill out the paperwork, I still didn't get no call," Johnson said.

She wants a better life for both her small children and is trying to improve her own position in life.

"I've been trying to get him in because I've been looking for work, try to go to school all both at the same time," Johnson said.

She hopes to benefit from the grant funds headed to New Orleans from Washington. Louisiana is among 18 states being awarded grant funds to expand and offer new high quality preschool programs. Over four years, Louisiana will get $32 million for that purpose.

According to documents provided by the Louisiana Department of Education, in the first year of the grant, six so called "high-need" communities will get funds. They are Caddo, the City of Monroe located in Ouachita Parish, Iberville, Lincoln, Orleans and Rapides parishes.

"I really do hope it gets him in," said Johnson.

Over the life of the four years of federal grant dollars, almost 11,000 at-risk children are expected to benefit.

"That early start, that early attachment to a school sets a child on a trajectory for a lot of good things," said Dr. Stephen Phillippi, a licensed clinical social worker who directs LSU Health's Institute for Public Health and Justice.

Phillippi said access to early education proves to be protective for children.

"Protection against later criminal involvement, later delinquent involvement, from dropping out of school, actually succeeding at school," he said.

The grant money is especially needed in Orleans Parish.

Youths from New Orleans make up almost 20 percent of the state's incarcerated delinquent population, according to Office of Juvenile Justice data.

"In the world I work in, if we can get kids through about a sixth- or eighth-grade learning level, you're almost guaranteeing that you'll never see them in Angola [prison]" said Phillippi.

And costs to incarcerate juveniles outpace what it costs to educate them. In Louisiana, it costs on average $141, 299 per year to incarcerate a juvenile, according to 2009 Justice Policy Institute information. But in terms of money allocated for students in school in Orleans Parish, state and local dollars together amount to a little over $9,000 per pupil per year, according to information from the state education department.

"These are huge savings if we can keep kids in school systems," said Phillippi.

"I think it's a great thing. It'll be great to see it coming to fruition," said Sheldon Williams of the expanded preschool programs.

Williams grew up in the Central City section of New Orleans which has ample poverty and crime, but he made it out and is now a college teacher.

"I was fortunate enough to be brought up here, to get away, go to the military, get to different states - and that was pre-Katrina - and to come back home and try to help and be an inspiration to our youth," said Williams.

He has a 4-year-old son who will get the education he needs. But Williams said he wants the best for a 2-year-old nephew and others in his former neighborhood.

"It's kind of hard to find a program, so I was interested in actually starting one myself," he said of earlier education programs.

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