Detroit–At a time when parents, educators and state officials are pushing to make sure every Michigan child has access to quality preschool, almost 1,000 low-income Detroit 4-year-olds may not get free, federally-funded classrooms because Detroit Public School officials botched the paperwork.
DPS failed to complete the application process for the Head Start preschool program on time. The result: Head Start classrooms are being shuttered across the city, with the district promising to offer 4-year-olds other programs funded by Michigan taxpayers instead.
During the 2013-14 school year, DPS had more than 900 Head Start students in about 56 classrooms, public records show.
The Head Start grant announcements were made in February, but word spread last week when some DPS schools were told to tag and send back any preschool furniture or equipment that was purchased with Head Start funds.
Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, called DPS’ mistake reprehensible and doubted lawmakers would favor funding more state preschool in Detroit, considering DPS screwed up a chance at federal money.
“I think it renders us functionally obsolete as a school district as it relates to the most vulnerable students,” Johnson added.
Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union, called the error by DPS “a sin and a shame.”
Asked why DPS failed to meet the Head Start deadline, the district released a statement on Monday saying DPS is actually expanding preschool. DPS did not answer questions regarding the Head Start application snafu, but described it as a program limited to poor students. About 82 percent of DPS students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
“DPS will no longer be including Head Start, which qualifies children based solely on their meeting poverty level requirements, in its early childhood education program offerings,” the district said in a written statement.
Last year, DPS had 3,363 children in early childhood programs, about 900 of them in Head Start. Despite losing the Head Start funds, the district plans to add 540 seats in 34 new classrooms using funds from the state’s Great Start Readiness Program and federal Title I funds.
DPS officials did not explain how losing more than 900 Head Start seats and adding 540 Great Start and Title 1 seats amounted to an increase in early childhood offerings.
Read more from Chastity Pratt-Dawsey and what happened to the Detroit Head Start Program in Bridge Magazine