Santa Monica schools will soon start their own self-funded early learning program, eschewing Head Start.

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District school board unanimously voted at a Thursday, January 17 board meeting to not renew a five-year contract through the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) for Head Start services.

For 2019-2020, LACOE wanted to begin a 5-year grant commitment with the district in which the district would have both Head Start and Early Head Start, doubling the students for Early Head Start and getting Head Start enrollment to 112 students. This would’ve awarded the district with $1,621,328 in grant money.

The district will instead eschew that route and fund an SMMUSD Early Learning program for five years at $1 million per year. District staff say this program will provide the high-quality preschool opportunities to resident families who qualify under district guidelines.

The new program proposal was first proposed last month.

Dr. Susan Samarge-Powell, director of Child Development Services at SMMUSD, argued that the new program would be less restrictive than Head Start and better aligned with the district’s educational goals with program support bolstered by preexisting district frameworks.

The program would cost $800,000 per year or around $11,500 per student, an upfront cost Samarge-Powell says would pay itself off later by reducing costs, supporting students throughout their educational careers as opposed to during only Head Start.

Samarge-Powell says the new program is built upon the tenets of accessibility, equitability, and flexibility.

“We want to expand opportunities for in-depth support for students, develop class environments that reflect economic diversity and provide learning experiences aligned with district philosophy,” Samarge-Powell said.

Samarge-Powell was careful to note that this program is less a total reinvention of Head Start and more of an expansion of services, emulating Head Start in the context of district continuity.

Public reaction was mixed. With over ten speakers, reactions ranged from “impressed” to some speakers taking issue with abandoning Head Start funds and putting stress on local funds.

Next steps for the program include executing communication and outreach plans as well as defining enrollment criteria and procedures.


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