Huntsville City Schools may start charging tuition for some Pre-K students

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.--The Huntsville City Schools Board of Education is considering tuition for some participants of the district's pre-kindergarten program.

Leaders say Huntsville City Schools gets some money from the state for Pre-K programs, but it is currently spending $3.3 million every year for its 40 classrooms.

Huntsville City Schools is already tightening its belt due to a $5.5 million accounting error discovered last year. Since then the district has hired a new Chief School Financial Officer and is currently assessing its finances to see where they stand and where they should go. The school system is limiting expenditures to things that are necessary.

Helen Scott and Anthony Davison with the School Readiness Department prepared a presentation for the board on Tuesday. They stated that Huntsville is different from almost every other district in the state because it does not charge for pre-k tuition right now.

"In seven years, we have not charged a penny," Scott said.

"Huntsville City Schools has been fortunate enough not to have to charge to Pre-K but we know that is not feasible anymore," said Anthony Davison, School Readiness Department Program Specialist.

Tuesday, the board learned they would need to substantially cut Pre-K programs if changes aren't made because of recent budget constraints.

"We don't want to cut any Pre-K classes," said Scott.

Administrators and the Office of School Readiness have been working on a solution, they say, and they came up with a proposal that is believed to save the district nearly $1 million.

Under the proposal, the students at Title 1 schools could attend Pre-K for free.  The system would fund Title 1 school Pre-K programs using mostly Title 1 money.

The system would then implement a sliding scale for kids at non-Title 1 schools. The presentation stated that the city has 15 non-Title 1 schools with Pre-K programs, operating 20 Pre-K classrooms. The district believes some grants can help cover the cost of the classrooms too. The tuition would be supplemental to that, going back into the classrooms.

"The most we could charge any one family would be three hundred dollars a month for a single child," said Davison. "Any money we receive would actually go back into the classrooms in one form or another. It's not like we are just collecting money. It would actually be used and put back into our Pre-K program."

He offered this chart as an example of the sliding scale tuition guidelines.

Leaders have some details to work out, such as fair options for families with more than one Pre-K student.

This proposal is what the department feels is the best option, Davison said.

"The district would essentially save $1 million a year and additionally, Huntsville City Schools would be able to retain most if not all of its current Pre-K classrooms. That's exactly what we want to do. We want to retain as many of our Pre-K classrooms as possible. We do have a stellar program. We have people who visit all the time to look at our program. We get phone calls all the time to talk about what we do to make our program successful."

The school board is expected to take a vote on the proposal some time in April.

Meanwhile, Huntsville City Schools is holding informational sessions about its Pre-K. The HCS Pre-K Application window will open for the 2019-2020 school year on April 1, 2019.

We asked the closest school systems to Huntsville what they do for Pre-K.

In Madison, a spokesman said the district has 11 Pre-K classrooms with a total of 198 students. They are seeking funding now for a 12th classroom.

He said there is a sliding scale payment system there, and, "Tuition currently ranges from 0 to $300 per month per child. All money stays in the program."

In Madison, they use a drawing system to randomly decide which children fill the slots for the classes.

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