Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon made educator Deborah Mann cry Friday morning when he announced in Kansas City that her early childhood center had won a $1 million grant.
Later, with tears again streaming down her cheeks, Mann said she had no idea when she arrived at the governor’s news conference that the Emmanuel Family and Child Development Center — a private nonprofit agency she started in 1986 — would get money to build a new 28,000-square-foot facility.
“I live by faith, and I have always prayed that the Lord would open the door to an opportunity for us to provide education for children in a quality education building,” said Mann, executive director of the center. “That happened today.”
Nixon announced nearly $1.5 million in grants during a visit to the Kansas City Public Schools’ Woodland Early Learning Community School. The total included $480,000 to continue renovations at Woodland to accommodate 3- and 4-year-olds as part of the school district’s push toward free universal preschool.
Woodland is the first of three early education centers the district expects to open by 2015. Woodland opened this month with 260 3- and 4-year-old children. The two other centers are planned for midtown and on the district’s south side.
The Kansas City district has about 6,800 3- and 4-year-old children living within district boundaries but is serving fewer than 1,700 in its schools. Currently, “40 percent of the children who come into the district in kindergarten start out one to two years behind,” said Superintendent Steve Green.
Green points to the expansion of early childhood education as key to ensuring that district students enter kindergarten ready to learn.
The district in May launched the Kansas City Early Childhood Education Commission, focused on making high-quality programs available to 80 percent of the 3- and 4-year-olds in the district’s boundaries within five years, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
That goal, when met, is expected to cost $38 million a year, said Jerry Kitzi, director of Head Start for the district.
The money that Nixon handed out Friday is a portion of the $10 million made available through the state Community Development Block Grant program and the Neighborhood Assistance Program to expand early childhood education.
Mann started the Emmanuel Family and Child Development Center at 2416 Swope Parkway “as a way to give back to my community,” she said.
“When I was a kid, my mother had the neighborhood house that all the children like to come to. ... I learned that early childhood education was my passion.”
About 200 children, from infants to 5-year-olds, attend the center, but Mann hopes to serve as many as 300 children in the new building and hire 25 to 30 additional teachers.