A joint community project was presented Wednesday to build an early childhood education infrastructure capable of providing high-quality, voluntary, and universal services to all children in Owensboro-Daviess County. Officials said it’s a five-year project that begins with learning what the issues are and ends with taking action.
The project was presented by the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro (PLFO) and The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Officials said the project model is intended to become a national model for how a local community provides early childhood education access to all families who want it.
“It’s to talk about how we as a community can put together a new ecosystem for early childhood education,” said Benjamin Geis, director of early childhood policy and practice for the Prichard Committee. “What we mean by that is how can we create a system of early childhood education — so for younger children pre-kindergarten, ideally — for everyone in the community who wants it to have access to that early education.”
Geis said students who are exposed to that early education before enrolling in kindergarten have a “much higher likelihood of growing to become math and reading proficient by the end of the third grade. That takes them on an upward trajectory throughout the rest of their years in school and throughout the rest of their life and into the workforce.”
According to the 2018 community profile (updated in February 2019) presented by the Prichard Committee, Owensboro and Daviess County public schools had the following education paths:
- Preschool enrollment — DCPS 54%; OPS 54%
- Kindergarten readiness — DCPS 56%; OPS 44%
- 3rd-grade reading proficiency — DCPS 61%; OPS 53%
- 3rd-grade math proficiency — DCPS 55%; OPS 52%
- 8th-grade reading proficiency — DCPS 46%; OPS 43%
- 8th-grade math proficiency — DCPS 65%; OPS 58%
- Transition readiness — DCPS 60%; OPS 53%
- Graduation rate — DCPS 94%; OPS 84%
- Postsecondary enrollment — DCPS 61%; OPS 50%
- Postsecondary attainment — DCPS 33%; OPS 33%
Those percentages represent all students, but gaps are visible throughout the education pipeline when broken down by race, according to the profile provided by the Prichard Committee.
Generally — though with some exceptions — white students had the highest percentages and Black students had the lowest, with Hispanic students falling in between.
Those are the sort of statistics the Prichard Committee and PLFO want to analyze so that a plan can be enacted to eliminate achievement gaps and provide a brighter future for all children.
The impact on the economy is the second major focus of the project.
“We know that parents who have access to a reliable source of early child care, they’re able to more fully contribute to the local workforce and economy,” Geis said.
Prior to the pandemic 14% of parents quit a job, did not take a job, or greatly changed their job due to problems with child care for children under 6, according to statistics provided by Geis. He also noted that child care expenses for an infant take up 36% of a single parent’s income, often leaving them with tough decisions about what to do with a child during the day.
Geis said they know that there are several different groups that provide early education — from private child care centers to faith-based organizations to public preschool — but there is room for improvement.
“What we want to do is ensure that there are enough slots, spaces and funding for conceivably every child in this county to have access to that early education,” he said. “We know that it’s critically important.”
Nearly 50 community leaders from education at all levels, business, local and state government, nonprofits, and other organizations were in attendance for the presentation.
Clay Ford, vice chair of the Prichard Committee, is hoping to recruit as many community partners as possible to begin developing an action plan for early childhood education opportunities in Owensboro.
“We plan to make sure that we learn as much as we can from what Owensboro does well and find opportunities that have been shown to be successful,” Ford said.
He said the project is a five-year commitment and something that isn’t happening very often around the state.
“I want the community to understand the significance of that, the importance of it, and to dive in and be supportive as we go through this process. That way when we get to the end of this five years, we realize that we’ve been able to make a difference, we’ve been able to have some significant accomplishments, and we can move forward with pride,” Ford said. “Hopefully at the end of the five years we’ll look and say this has been a worthwhile investment and we need to continue.”