School boards turn an eye to early childhood education

The poster for

The poster for "No Small Matter", the movie shown at the meeting.

Finn Greenstone, Managing Editor

Early education was the new priority at the Dec. 5 Oak Park tri-board meeting.

Recent OPRF school board meetings have focused on ways to address the racial achievement gap and other inequities throughout the school system. On Dec. 5, however, the school boards of District 200, District 97, and District 90 focused on a perceived root of the problem. The Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education, a non-profit Oak Park organization dedicated to bettering infrastructure for the care of young children, presented its progress, financial situation, and recommendations to the assembled board.

The Collaboration for Early Childhood was first funded by the District 200 school board on March 5, 2013. Since then, it has conducted research initiatives and educational and care programs focused on providing for young children. At the meeting, the group presented findings: early childhood education is critically important to educational and societal success later in life. Parents unable to afford early childhood education programs are forced to either stop working to care for their child or to leave their child at home, which can take a toll on a child’s emotional health.

CECCE notes an inability to pay for high quality preschool, daycare, or similar services — what the presenters called the opportunity gap — is the cause of many difficult situations later in life, including a higher likelihood of dropping out of school or incarceration as well as the racial achievement gap. Families who are racial minorities are statistically less likely to be able to afford early childhood services due to institutional poverty and lack of infrastructure, which in turn wraps their children into the cycle of poverty.

The presentation was supplemented by clips from the documentary film “No Small Matters,” a film about the struggles many families have to go through to care for their child while maintaining a career simultaneously, and the consequences for both adults and children in the tense situations that arise. Producer Rachel Pikelny, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and Oak Park parent, spoke briefly about the implications of each scene shown to the assembled boards. After speaking about the problem they had identified, CECCE advocated for what they saw as the solution: increased funding for affordable early childhood services and programs. CECCE’s total expenditures from July to November amounted to $1,500,771.00.

Throughout the meeting, the three school boards interjected with occasional questions or clarifications. As a whole, however, they were committed to addressing the same issues that the Collaboration for Early Childhood had introduced. As the tagline goes: “Their now is our future.”