Parents frustrated that Kansas City Public Schools is now charging for early education programs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some parents are upset that Kansas City Public Schools are now charging fees for early education programs that were free last year.

In recent years, Mayor Sly James in particular has made early childhood education a priority, with a goal of getting more kids reading and learning, so they will be successful later in life.

But when mothers such as Natasha Ellington went to enroll her 3-year-old son, Elijah, in a full day pre-k program, she says she was shocked to learn that the district wanted her to pay $275 a month. She says there was no charge last year for a similar program for her other kids, who are now kindergarteners.

"There's a lot of families struggling to put food on the table," Ellington said. "So how they can afford something like $275 a month?"

Ellington says she and many other parents have been turned away from early education programs because of the fees now being imposed.

She has Elijah on a waiting list for a half-day Head Start Program that is free, but all slots are full.

The district charges between $275 a month and $550 a month for full day pre-k programs, depending on family income. The Ellingtons say neighboring districts like Center and Hickman Mills continue to offer similar early learning programs at no charge.

A statement from the Kansas City School Distirct regarding pre-school fees was sent early Thursday evening:

Since early childhood education is extremely important in preparing children for our schools, we seek federal, state and local grants to help reduce the cost of these programs. We do receive some federal support for the Head Start program, and some state grant support for a limited number of pre-K classrooms. Beyond that, we seek grants from private foundations and corporations to help offset the cost of care for families.

Unfortunately, those sources of funds do not cover the total cost of care for children in our school district. We have to hire well-trained teachers and equip them with the best classrooms tools if we are going to offer high-quality pre-K programs. At the same time, we have to be responsible stewards of the limited public resources we are given. After careful consideration and consultation with parents and other stakeholders, a decision was made to institute a fee structure in order to cover some of the cost of our pre-K programs. Those rates are the same as or less than most of our neighboring public school districts in Missouri.

We understand the concerns voiced by families and understand that this is a hardship. We encourage families that cannot afford these fees to contact us at 816-418-5266 so that we can assist them in possibly reducing the cost of enrollment through federal and state subsidies.