The Asbury Park Press reports: Some tax watchdogs have come out against the Board of Education’s plan to use federal money to expand the preschool program, arguing it will potentially burden taxpayers while cheating nonpublic school education.
A letter to parents from the Lakewood Association Coalition, a homeowners group consisting largely of Orthodox Jewish members, urged parents to object to diverting up to $2 million in federal stimulus money from the private schools to expand the preschool program, which serves public and private school pupils. The letter argues that the money should go toward all private school children through eighth grade.
“Especially in these very difficult economic times, where our parents and mosdos (private religious schools) are under tremendous financial pressure, it is unthinkable to divert any funds – federal, state or local – from our mosdos, who are struggling to survive,” the letter read.
The coalition said a petition is circulating among the private schools requesting that “no portion of these funds be set aside, targeted, segregated or otherwise limited to benefit only preschoolers.”
No representatives of the private schools could be reached. The petition and signatures on it were not available.
Proponents of the program say the current preschool, which serves about 200 children, is insufficient. With a long waiting list, it means many children arrive at kindergarten unprepared, they maintain.
“It’s a long year when you have 4-year-olds in kindergarten and they’re not ready,” said Carol Cousins, president of the Lakewood Education Association, the teachers union.
School Board Attorney Michael I. Inzelbuch said he has encountered interest from many private schools for the expansion.
“Over the last several months, numerous members of the nonpublic community have approached the administration to explore the utilization of Title I to expand the preschool,” he said.
The school board could vote on the proposal at its meeting tonight. Five companies specializing in child care submitted proposals to run the program: Catapult Learning; Special Children’s Center; Ready, Set, Grow; Step Ahead; and Tiny Tots.
Tiny Tots, the largest child care center in Lakewood that is already under contract with the district for preschool special education services, submitted the lowest one-year cost proposal at $900,000. The board will likely solicit new bids for the second year. The expansion will add about 120 children to the preschool roster the first year.
Board members either declined comment or could not be reached.
Of the $5.4 million in federal stimulus money the district is expecting, some $2 million will be set aside for the preschool program. About two-thirds of the remaining money is reserved for private schools, which educate up to 80 percent of the township student population.
But because federal money for nonpublic schools can be used only for elementary and secondary education, more public school money must be reserved for future funding of the preschool, said Inzelbuch, citing advice from national Title I experts.
The stimulus funds expire after two years, the district will have to decide whether to foot the bill or discontinue the program if no additional federal money can be found.
“Both Title I and stimulus monies should not create a larger tax burden on our already overburdened local taxpayers,” Chesky Seitler, coalition chairman, said in an e-mailed statement.