Six years ago, Audubon Charter School launched one of the most unique and ambitious preschool programs in the city of New Orleans: it would welcome 100 3- and 4-year-old children, regardless of parents’ ability to pay and in spite of very limited state funding for them.
Now, school officials credit that program as a key element of its soaring test scores. But with the preschool running a significant deficit and no new funding for preschool in sight, school leaders are openly wondering how to continue those programs.
“I don’t know how we would be the par excellance school that we are if we didn’t have pre-K education,” said board chair Cornelius Tilton. “But we do want to know, what’s the cost?”
The school does charge $4,570 per year for pre-kindergarten students, but after admissions, it evaluates each family’s income and tailors the fee to their ability to pay. Some families pay nothing, some pay the full amount, and the average paid by those families is slightly more than $2,000, with the school making up the rest, according to a preliminary report prepared by the school administration.
A handful of low-income students do receive reimbursements from the state LA-4 program, for $78,712. The school is also reimbursed by the state for gifted or special-education students, another $65,344. The parents’ tuition generates $183,147, for a total revenue in preschool of $327,203.
Meanwhile, the school’s 107 preschool students represent costs of $676,000 in teacher and aide salaries and benefits and other direct expenses. That leaves a deficit of roughly $350,000 for the program out of the school’s nearly $7 million budget.
Part of the hope in creating the program was that the demonstrated results of preschool education would result in the state increasing its financial commitment to it, Tilton said, and called it a “tragedy” that this hasn’t happened.
“Long-term, we’re not seeing an increase in the amount of dollars that are coming to the school,” Tilton said.
No decisions were made Saturday morning, as the discussion was simply intended to introduce the issue, Tilton said. But a number of possible options were discussed:
- Increasing tuition fees will not work, officials said. Were the school to do that, its preschool would no longer be considered open admission, and Audubon would have to hold a new lottery between pre-K4 and kindergarten — likely eliminating many of the preschool students.
- The school could consider reserving enough spots for gifted students to cover the deficit, because those students are fully funded by the state.
- The preschool currently has nine sections, but the Broadway campus will only have eight classrooms, creating a facility issue as well because all preschool must be on the ground floor. Administrators discussed combining one section of pre-K 3 and 4.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.