Department of Education prepares study to explore private partnerships in preschool (Southernminn)

By IDA MOJADAD

The Minnesota Department of Education received a federal grant for nearly $400,000 to pilot a study to better understand if a “Pay for Success” model could be successful in preschool.

The U.S. Department of Education in December granted a total of $3 million largely to school districts like Napa Valley in California as well as Cuyahoga County in Ohio. MDE spokesperson Emily Bisek said the study should begin soon and could be completed in a year or more.

The Pay for Success model partners with philanthropic and private sector investors to provide resources that produce better outcomes. The government agrees to pay for concrete, quantifiable results but the funds are spent only if the specified outcomes are achieved, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

MDE plans to engage stakeholders and determine how feasible the Pay for Success model would be for Minnesota while developing a process to assure that future decisions on special education placement would not be influenced, according to its grant statement.

“What it comes down to is it’s a study,” Bisek said. “[MDE is] just looking for what may work and what may not.”

In its grant application, MDE pointed to large achievement gaps among poor students evident by kindergarten, which persist as they move through the system. It also cited U.S. Census data that shows 14.3 percent of children under six were living in poverty in 2015.

Goals of the pilot would include kindergarten readiness, improved social and emotional skills, increased high school graduation rates and reduction in discipline.

For Faribault Public Schools, exploring the model is not a priority as it focuses on other issues.

“The higher priority right now is space,” Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker said. “I’m sure it has its merits but we want to reach out to our kids and not a certain group of kids.”

Northfield Superintendent Matt Hillmann also didn’t have much to go on, but said that space is also the biggest concern.

“We are in a space crunch,” Hillmann said. “We are literally out of room in our facilities.”

Hillmann said that they would look out for the results, but that, in the meantime, Northfield educators have looked deeper in recent years at how they prepare students for kindergarten.

“One thing that we notice more and more is that when we talk about the achievement gap, that starts at preschool,” Northfield Director of Community Services Erin Bailey said.

Part of the discussion, Bailey said, is making sure parents know of resources before their child enrolls in kindergarten and how to support those not in high-quality preschools.

Northfield Montessori Director Jeff Longenecker said this model benefits diverse groups of students, like those using free or reduced lunches, first-generation Americans or new immigrants that make them at risk for gaps in achievement.

“Pay for Success gives organizations a little room to try some new strategies,” Longenecker said. “[It’s] hard to find grants or donations to find new things out of the box and those students need things out of the box.”

A Northfield Montessori partnership that Longenecker pointed to is with senior living groups like Three Links, where preschoolers visit and spend time with the retirement community. For students who are new to the area or country, this connects them to a generation they might not have otherwise talked to and whose own families may not be in the area.

“As our small community becomes more mobile, they’re often disconnected from that generation,” Longenecker said.

Until the study is completed in about a year, the impact on Northfield and Faribault will remain unknown.

“The key thing is how we collaborate here in Northfield,” Hillmann said.

Reach Reporter Ida Mojadad at 507-333-3135 or follow her on Twitter @APGidamojadad.