The Council Bluffs Community School District is preparing to apply for a five-year federal Head Start grant that could provide $2 million a year for the district’s Head Start students.

The grant would require a local match of 20 percent, which could come from other sources of preschool funding, Tracy Mathews, director of early childhood programs, told school board members Tuesday.

The main purpose of applying for the grant would be to serve more preschool students, Mathews said. The district’s goal is to serve up to 560 4-year-olds in the preschool program by 2020. However, reaching that number would require more space, more staff and more funding, she said.

“About 725 kids start kindergarten each year,” said Corey Vorthmann, chief academic officer. “About half come through our pre-K program. If we could get to 560, that would be pretty much universal preschool.”

The district can currently serve up to 538 preschoolers, including 352 full-day and 186 partial-day students, Mathews said. That number includes 3- and 4-year-old children and Head Start participants. The actual number enrolled is 503. The district saves room for children who need services or qualify for Head Start partway through the school year. It screens families monthly to see if additional children qualify.

“We have to serve any child with an (Individual Education Plan) when they turn 3,” she said.

The district receives funding for preschool from the state voluntary preschool program, Shared Visions, Head Start, the Iowa West Foundation, Title I, special education, and tuition charged to parents, Mathews said. West Central Community Action serves a total of 98 Head Start students in five district buildings.

“We are full with 98 students in those classrooms now,” she said.

The Head Start students are mixed in with other preschoolers, Mathews said. There is a staff person for every eight students. Head Start students must be from families at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line.

“All of our preschool classrooms are capped at 16,” she said.

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West Central, as the grant holder, is responsible for monitoring the school district sites to make sure Head Start children receive quality educational programming, family advocacy services, nutritious meals and medical, dental and mental health services (usually covered by Medicaid, if the family is enrolled), Mathews said. They also take care of needs assessment, reporting, data management and professional development. The school district oversees 20 Head Start slots each at the YMCA and Children’s Square USA Children’s Center that it helps fund with statewide voluntary preschool funds.

If the school district were awarded the grant for its Head Start sites, it would have to take over administrative and wrap-around services, Superintendent Vickie Murillo said.

“We’d have to hire more people,” she said, as well as purchasing more equipment and supplies.

The board will review the grant application before it is submitted on Nov. 20.

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