Parents with students in the Hannah Cole Preschool program found a welcome surprise this summer: starting this year, the program will not charge tuition.

In order to collect state funding based on average daily attendance, school districts are not allowed to charge for preschool tuition. During the 2017-2018 school year, the district collected $32,000 in preschool tuition. This year, state funding will top $130,000. 

“It was a financial decision, but it also allows the district to serve a wider base of students,” Superintendent Sarah Marriott said.

Previously, preschool tuition was charged on a sliding scale. Families who qualified for free lunch paid $50 a month, families who were eligible for reduced-price lunch paid $150 each month and families not eligible for assistance paid $275 each month. In the Boonville R-1 school district, 80 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program.

Jennifer Rice, Hannah Cole’s preschool director, said this year’s class demographics did not shift, possibly because families were not informed the program would be free until after registration.

“We actually didn’t know that we would be tuition-free until the middle of the summer,” Rice said.

Currently, the preschool program is limited in further expansion by available space. Right now, the program only has two classrooms, which means that it can serve about 38 students. The district also maintains a waitlist of students who want to attend the program.

Research shows the importance of preschool. Early childhood education programs provide benefits that extend far beyond the classroom, especially for students from lower income backgrounds.

Nationally, 48 percent of children from low income families are deemed “ready to learn” upon starting kindergarten. For children from middle income families, this number is closer to 75 percent, according to Brookings Institution research.

According to the National Education Association, preschool graduates are more likely to graduate high school and own homes, and are less likely to repeat grades, require special education, or get in trouble with the law.

“We just want to help give our kids the experiences they need to be ready for school,” Rice said. “It’s not just the educational knowledge, it’s the emotional skills and the social skills, learning how to work together and handle disagreements.”