Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

Yesterday, Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh announced the creation of a Universal Pre-Kindergarten Advisory Committee that will develop a plan to double the number of 4-year-olds in high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten programs by 2018.

It’s an exciting move that builds on the city’s commitment to providing innovative preschool programs for children.

“Pre-kindergarten programs ensure that all students start kindergarten ready to learn,” Walsh said in a press release. “Rather than spend time on remediation in education, we are investing in our youngest students to lay the groundwork for their long-term success and the long-term prosperity of Boston.”

The co-chairs of the new committee are two long-time advocates of early education: Jeri Robinson, the vice president for Education and Family Learning at the Boston Children’s Museum, and Jason Sachs, the director of Early Childhood Education at the Boston Public Schools.

To create a pre-K expansion plan, the committee will look at a number of factors including, “class space requirements, teacher qualifications, funding requirements, and potential partnerships for before-school, after-school, and summer wrap-around services.”

To gather input from the community, Thrive in 5, a partnership between the Mayor’s Office and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and other organizations will conduct a series of focus groups across the city. Feedback will also be collected through online surveys.

City preschool programs are already growing: the city’s FY15 budget adds over 100 K1 seats for 4-year-olds, a key step toward meeting Walsh’s goal of establishing universal early education.

Nonetheless, the need for more preschool spots is pressing. Boston’s population of 4-year-olds is growing: approximately 6,000 live in Boston now, a number that’s expected to grow to 8,000 by 2030.

“Currently, approximately one-third of all 4-year-olds (2,200) are in the nationally-recognized Boston Public School Pre-Kindergarten (K1) Program, while others attend community-based private programs,” according to the city’s press release. “An estimated 25 percent of all Boston 4-year-olds do not attend a pre-kindergarten program.”

As Walsh says, there are numerous benefits to expanding preschool. “Research on early childhood programs with trained teachers and smaller teacher-to-student ratios have been shown to yield benefits in increased MCAS performance, academic achievement, improved behavior, prevention of delinquency and crime, and labor market success. Boston’s K1 program has demonstrated significant gains for all students in their language, literacy and mathematics development, and reduces the achievement gap significantly between students by third grade.”

We look forward to seeing the committee’s recommendations. Expanding access to preschool will help Boston maintain its status as a national leader in education — and it will create new opportunities for the city’s children to achieve lifelong success.

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The members of the advisory committee are:

Noah Berger, President, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center

Danubia Campos, Parent

Michelle Cannon, Parent

Sharon Scott Chandler, Executive Vice President, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD)

Ana Crowley, Parent

Anne Douglass, Assistant Professor, Early Education and Care, UMass Boston

Betsy Drinan, Co-teacher, Boston Teachers Union School

Linda Dorcena Forry, 1st Suffolk District, Massachusetts Senate

Dominique Graham, Parent

Kimberly Haskins, Senior Program Officer, Barr Foundation

Renee Boynton Jarrett, Founding Director, Vital Village Community Engagement Network

John Kelly, Executive Director, East Boston Social Centers

Mary Kinsella, Vice President of Early Childhood Education and Care and School Age Programs, Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester

Suzanne Lee, Boston Public School Principal (Retired)

Michael Loconto, Member, Boston School Committee

Susan McConathy, Director, Deloitte Consulting, LLP

Nejat Sirag, Parent

Todd Rainville, General Partner, Symmetric Capital

Marchelle Raynor, Director (Retired), Head Start

Ayesha Rodriguez, 0-5 Manager, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Peg Sprague, Senior Vice President for Community Impact, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley

Marie St. Fleur, President and CEO, Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children

Jane Tewksbury, Executive Director, Thrive in 5

Robert Triest, Vice President and Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Eleonora Villegas-Reimers, Associate Professor of Education, Wheelock College