Plan unveiled to close learning gaps for young learners in Greater Owensboro

January 21, 2022 | 12:10 am

Updated January 20, 2022 | 11:54 pm

Significant gaps exist in kindergarten-readiness for children throughout Greater Owensboro. Statistics showed that on average, approximately 49% of Greater Owensboro students arrived at kindergarten unprepared in 2019-2020. An action plan for early childhood education was unveiled Thursday and includes points such as expanding access to greater affordability and improved quality of education.

Who developed the plan

The Public Life Foundation of Owensboro partnered with The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and over 30 community leaders to develop the 6-point plan. Members of the Greater Owensboro Partnership for Early Development represent the business, early and K-12 education, local nonprofit, higher education, faith-based, healthcare, and government sectors.

“Quality of life begins with the start we provide to our children,” said Clay Ford, Partner at EM Ford and Chairman of The Prichard Committee. “The community partners represented in this body of work stand united to develop an early childhood education system capable of preparing all children to thrive.”

The partnership discovered that access to high quality early childhood education is not accessible to all children in Greater Owensboro for a number of reasons, ranging from affordability and availability of high-quality early learning environments to issues pertaining to recruiting and retaining early childhood educators.

Matt Robbins, Superintendent of Daviess County Public Schools, said “Children who participate in early learning arrive at kindergarten prepared, ultimately increasing their likelihood of securing proficiency in reading and math by the close of the 3rd grade. Such gains in early learning mean that these same children are 40% less likely to drop out of high school.”

Dr. Matthew Constant, Superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, added “The research is clear – the path to opportunity for all begins with the start we provide to our youngest children. Access to early childhood education is critical to the success of Greater Owensboro.”

The Greater Owensboro Partnership for Early Development first assembled in June 2021. The partnership’s members met frequently to determine which steps the community needed to take to improve access to early learning opportunities for all children through their engagement with local, statewide, and national early childhood experts and diverse local voices.

Current early childhood education (ECE) landscape

In their presentation, the group outlined five key points of the current landscape. (More details can be found on pages 5-8 of this document.)

  1. Significant gaps exist in Kindergarten-readiness for children throughout Greater Owensboro.
    • On average, approximately 49% of Greater Owensboro students arrived at Kindergarten unprepared as reported by the Brigance screener in 2019-2020.
    • On average, approximately 59% of economically disadvantaged students, 76% of students with disabilities, and 75% of English learning students arrived at kindergarten unprepared in Greater Owensboro. 
  2. Greater Owensboro students who score below the kindergarten readiness level have a strong likelihood of failing to reach proficiency on the 3rd grade reading test. 
    • On average, 46.9% of Greater Owensboro students failed to reach reading proficiency by the close of 3rd grade as reported by 2018-2019 K-PREP scores. 
    • On average, approximately 55% of economically disadvantaged students, 69% of students with disabilities, and 63.5% of English learning students failed to reach reading proficiency by the close of 3rd grade in Greater Owensboro. 
  3. Only about 20% of Greater Owensboro children under age 5 have access to ECE services.
    • The U.S. Census estimates that 6,773 children under the age of 5 reside in Greater Owensboro.
    • Kentucky’s 2020 Early Childhood Profile estimates that across Greater Owensboro: 
      • 267 children receive care in self-contained Head Start or Early Head Start programs. 
      • 383 children are served through Head Start and Public Preschool or in blended programs. 
      • 700 children are served in a self-contained Public Preschool program. 
      • Of 6,773 children in Greater Owensboro, only 1,350 are enrolled in the above ECE services. 
  4. Access to quality ECE services is not universal 
  5. Disparities in workforce development and professional pay create gaps in access to quality ECE services 

What the recommendations include

Based on the landscape and the feedback from all the sectors, the partnership’s recommendations include (more details can be found on pages 9-10 of this document.):

  1. Recommendation 1: Launch a public advocacy campaign to encourage community-wide support of quality Early Childhood Education.Every community member in Daviess County — families, educators, business owners, and community leaders — must understand how access to quality ECE services benefits not only parents with young children, but the community as a whole.
  2. Recommendation 2: Implement Early Childhood Education talent development and retention strategies to meet Early Childhood Education workforce needs.
  3. Recommendation 3: Implement employee based child care partnerships among employers and child care centers. Small, midsize, and large businesses can be incentivized to offer child care employee benefits to all employees. Public-private partnerships, federal tax incentives, and a matching grant available through the Kentucky Division of Child Care are each pathways to growing child care benefits for Greater Owensboro employers.
  4. Recommendation 4: Identify and enroll all families eligible for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidy and sustain CCAP eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level and make all children within 200% of the federal poverty level eligible for public preschool. Innovative community partnerships with organizations such as The Center of Owensboro, Audubon Area Community Services, and/or Owensboro Public Schools/Daviess County Schools can close gaps in access for enrollment in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) for families at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. 
  5. Recommendation 5: Raise the quality of all child care centers to 3 STARS or above and clear the Head Start, preschool, and child care waiting lists for all children under age 5. The Daviess County Child Care Community Council can partner with entities such as Child Care Aware and/or Lakeshore Learning to coach child care centers rated below 3 STARS to raise their quality ratings.
  6. Recommendation 6: Utilize data to monitor for continuous improvement of educational outcomes for children enrolled in Early Childhood Education programs.

A call to action

The partnership stressed that the release of their recommendations is only a first step in developing a holistic and inclusive high-quality early childhood environment for all Greater Owensboro children. 

“All in the community stand to gain from this work,” said Keith Cottoner, Executive Director of the H.L. Neblett Community Center. “Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman released research in 2016 that found that every dollar spent on high-quality, birth-to-5 programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13% annual return on investment in the community.”

Candance Castlen Brake, President and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce agreed.

“Providing early childhood education access builds the future workforce of the community, while supporting Greater Owensboro’s current workforce,” she said. “The lack of available early childhood education has substantial annual costs in lost earnings, business productivity, and tax revenue.”

“We invite all to join us as we take the next steps together in creating a community in which all children have the opportunity for quality early learning to thrive in school and life,” said Joe Berry, President of the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro. “In doing so, we make Greater Owensboro the best place to learn, live, work and play.”

Joe Berry, President of the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro, said their work will begin immediately.

“We’re going to begin a process of having some direct community engagement beyond our committee — so talking to people in the community, talking to parents, talking to providers — trying to figure out where the real opportunities are,” he said. “We can try to build up early childhood education as a community priority, and we can try to work with our partners to create better outcomes. That’s what the foundation is committed to do. We have committed at least $4 million over the course of the next 5 years to help tackle this problem.”

Berry added, “We think that we have a blueprint for success, and now it’s about implementation. We know this is a long-term proposition, and it’s going to take some time not only to implement many of the projects, but also measure the outcomes. That’s why we’re in it for the long haul. We’re excited to get started.”

January 21, 2022 | 12:10 am

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