SIKESTON -- As school district administrators grapple with tighter budgets, many are working creatively to figure out how they can continue offering quality programs, like Parents as Teachers, to their families.
"School districts are understanding the importance of Parents as Teachers, that the service it provides to the families is invaluable and connects parents with schools," said Lana Brooks, supervisor for Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Early Childhood Education.
In May the Missouri General Assembly approved a $3 million restoration for the Parents as Teachers Program. The joy for the early childhood program was short-lived after Gov. Jay Nixon announced last month additional state budget cuts resulting from the need for more disaster relief funds.
Michele Clark, public information officer for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, pointed out even with the fiscal year 2012 withholding, the actual revenue available to school districts is higher than last year.
"The appropriation for (PAT) last year was $13 million, and it's $13.9 million this year," Clark said. "It's actually an increase of $900,000, which is spread out statewide."
Clark said this figure could change if numbers get better -- or worse.
Many school districts have responded to the smaller PAT budgets by reducing staff and redirecting families to "high needs" characteristics to get more intensive services, Brooks said.
Brooks said PAT has a couple components it funds. There's a screening component and a parent education component. However, the screening component is required to be offered by districts, she noted.
"If a district decides they don't have the funds available or local dollars available for the PAT piece of the program, they must still conduct screenings," Brooks said.
Locally, New Madrid County R-1 is one school district that has eliminated its Parents as Teachers program for the upcoming school year.
"It's unfortunate that the cuts were made from the state in this area. However, due to the fact the cuts were made, this program would cost the district over $50,000 a year of local money to continue," said New Madrid County R-1 Superintendent Bill Nance.
Jenny Hobeck, supervisor of the Sikeston R-6 School District's PAT program, said currently not much is slated to change for district's program in the upcoming school year.
"We will still have the one parent educator," Hobeck.
Currently, Sikeston's sole parent educator is conducting home visits with 80 and 90 families, Hobeck said, noting the Parents as Teachers organization says 60 families is a case load.
In the East Prairie R-2 school district, one of its two parent educators was reassigned as a social worker at one of the district's other schools beginning with the new school year, according to Superintendent Scott Downing.
"(Last year) we had made some reduced hours," Downing said about the program. "... Parents as Teachers is very beneficial and gets the kids an early start to education and helps parents connect with the school."
Historically, PAT programs have given all families access to personal visits, developmental screenings, referral services and other parent education services that help prepare children for school and encourage parents in their role as the child's first teacher.
Scott County Central and Kelly school districts are also continuing their PAT programs with the new school year.
Meanwhile, educators will continue to weigh their options and hope more funding for the early childhood program becomes available.
Downing expressed his disappointment: "It's a shame we're going away from funding early childhood education when now we need it the most."
For the entire story, see the July 7 edition of the Standard Democrat or click here to log on to the electronic edition.