Post last updated at 9:39 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22:
Lawrence Public Schools will offer free early education and enrichment for preschool-age children of classified staff members in the district, Superintendent Anthony Lewis announced Monday.
Starting Sept. 6, classified staff members with 3- and 4-year-old children can take advantage of the new benefit, which will provide before- and after-school learning activities and early education in classrooms during the school day free of charge.
Those who qualify for the benefit include paraeducators and instructional support staff, food service and custodial personnel, and secretarial, clerical, and technical services staff in the district, according to a news release.
Funding comes from federal COVID-19 relief funds, or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER). The district will offer the benefit to new and existing classified staff during only the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, unless it can find a permanent source of funding to continue the program, due to limitations on when ESSER funds can be used.
“Our community needs to look at more creative approaches like this to expand high-quality early childhood educational opportunities and recruit and retain employees,” Lewis said in the release. “This should be a significant benefit to classified staff working in our schools. They will know that while they are at work, their young children will be building kindergarten readiness skills and receiving two nutritious meals in a safe and nurturing environment.”
The district currently has more than 100 postings on its website for classified positions, Lewis said during Monday’s school board meeting. He said he believes this benefit will address one barrier to filling those positions, as well as provide young students with kindergarten readiness skills.
“It’s definitely a win-win for our staff and for our young scholars,” he said.
The school district included $955,000 as part of its ESSER III application to support two additional classrooms for preschool-aged children in this program.
ESSER dollars will be used to staff those classes with two certified teachers, one enrichment coach and four instructional paraeducators, according to the news release. Additionally, the funds will provide curriculum materials, classroom furniture and supplies, as well as any facility changes required to obtain a license.
“I think this also presents an opportunity for our community to look for more creative and more innovative approaches like this that will expand our high quality early childhood opportunities and also assisting with recruiting and retention,” Lewis said.
Whether or not the district will provide this benefit past the two years allocated is up to the United States Department of Education’s discretion, Lewis said, but he will continue advocating for its permanence.
Children in the program will be served during normal school hours, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at Kennedy Early Childhood Center, 1605 Davis Road in Lawrence. Enrichment activities will also be available prior to school from 7 to 8 a.m., after school from 3 to 4:30 p.m, as well as from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.