For every child Kansas City Public Schools serves in pre-kindergarten, the district estimates that five more are left wanting.
Now the district has enlisted attorney Herb Kohn to lead a commission of heavy hitters in the community to bring thousands more children into high-quality programs.
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Kohn has played problem solver before, helping clear the way for the Union Station restoration, negotiating the Sprint Center deal and fixing the city pension system.
“But I don’t think any have been as important as this one,” he said.
Some 30 people from a wide range of community involvement have signed on to join the commission, which is aiming to develop a plan that does not depend on state and federal action. The panel wants to have a report by Labor Day.
“Our job will be to find funding without waiting for state and federal money to come in,” he said.
Kansas City Public Schools currently serves about 1,000 pre-kindergarten children in Head Start, Montessori and neighborhood school programs, Superintendent Steve Green said.
The district and Office of Early Learning director Jerry Kitzi are increasing programming, planning to reopen Woodland Elementary School in the fall as an early learning center.
Green thinks the district on its own can develop the capacity and funding to serve 1,500 children. But it will take broad collaboration with community services and agencies to reach the estimated 6,000 pre-kindergarten children within the district’s boundaries who need services.
Kohn is chairing the commission. Dianne Cleaver, the executive director of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, and Pat McCown of McCownGordon Construction will be the vice chairs.
The costs, private and public, will be high in reaching the commission’s goal, Kohn said, but the alternative costs are much higher.
Children who are not ready for kindergarten are more likely to be reading below grade level after the third grade. And those children are more likely to drop out of high school and fail to get degrees.
“As terrible as the cost is (for universal pre-kindergarten),” he said, “it doesn’t compare to the costs 20 times that of having dropouts in the streets or in prison or wherever they are going.”