Rural School Districts Face Trouble Keeping Preschools Open

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NEW BLOOMFIELD - This school year, administrators at New Bloomfield R-III School District faced a major dilemma — cut its preschool program because lack of state funding or find other means to keep it running.

New Bloomfield has funded its program with the state-run Missouri Preschool Project grant for the last 10 years. In 2013, lawmakers decided they would begin phasing out the grants for long-term recipients.

According to New Bloomfield Superintendent David Tramel, that left his district scrambling to find other ways to fund its program.

"We've made adjustments with budget cuts, budget reductions here and there. We increased the daily rate we charge parents ... but it is very challenging to maintain the program with the reduced funds we are receiving," Tramel said.

This year, the district saw state funding for its preschool program decrease by more than $20,000. Money from the state-run Missouri Preschool Project declined from $90,000 five years ago to $42,500 this year. Next year, the district is set to receive $21,500.

"What do you keep? Do you keep this program, do you keep this program at the cost of this program at the cost of this teacher? It's very very difficult," school board president Gracia Baker said.

However, parents and most school board members agreed, cutting the program wasn't an option.

"I think it is very important in our community to continue the early-learning childhood program ... My children benefited from attending this preschool program. By the completion of the second year of preschool they knew their alphabet, their sounds and their numbers," Jenny Goodman said, a parent of a student currently enrolled in the preschool program.

The New Bloomfield school board will step up next year to fund the program and will no longer participate in the Missouri Preschool Project. That means the district won't face the same rules set out in the grant program. The district will no longer employ a licensed preschool teacher full-time for 12 months. Instead, a licensed teacher will run the program for nine months, and during the three month summer vacation a non-certified teacher will take over the classroom. The program will remain accredited.

Other rural school districts are facing similar problems. Next year, Pilot Grove C-4 would've only received $18,000 from the Missouri Preschool Project. The district decided it would keep the program running with district funds. Holliday C-2 had to close the doors on its program because the Missouri Preschool Project grant was the only way it could operate its preschool.

According to Tramel, the problem for rural school districts is that half of their budgets come from local funding. Because of low tax bases and small populations, rural districts have a hard time raising any extra money. 

Tramel said he wishes the district received more state funds, especially for preschool programs.