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Preschool often out of reach financially for families

October 30, 2017
Kristen Taketa
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In many cases, public preschool in Missouri isn’t quite public school.

It often requires tuition, and there are limited spaces available.

Some St. Louis County school districts charge almost $10,000 a year for full-day preschool, five days a week. Even districts in lower-income areas that provide free preschool using federal, state or local dollars say they don’t have enough space to accommodate all families who want to send their young children to their schools.

Take the Kirkwood School District’s early childhood center. The district offers free preschool to low-income families in one state-funded classroom of 20 children. But overall, just 3 percent of students at the district’s main early childhood center qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a measure of poverty, said Principal Melissa Sandbothe. It costs $249 a week for five-day preschool, 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., a price that some middle-income families might struggle to afford. Sandbothe said more than 100 people are routinely on a waitlist.

The Rev. Jeff Moore began a group last year to improve preschool access in Kirkwood for low-income families. His Webster Groves Christian Church is in Kirkwood, just over the Kirkwood-Webster border along Berry Road.

“I had assumed that if the school district owned and ran an early childhood center that all of the residents in that school district would have affordable access to that childhood center,” said Moore. “What I’ve learned is, throughout the municipalities in the St. Louis area, that’s not the case.”