Public preschool may take away from private business

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cathy Clark says there is a place for preschool in public schools, but she worries that it may have hurt her own business in recent years.

Clark, co-owner of A Small World Preschool, says enrollment at both her Cape Girardeau and Jackson locations is down 20 percent from previous years. She sees the increasing availability of preschool programs in the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school systems as a reason.

Clark says people have told her the economy must be hurting enrollment, because jobs are being lost and there is less need for childcare. She says few children have been removed from A Small World due to job loss, with the exception of some immediately after Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield laid off 125 workers from its Cape Girardeau office in 2010.

"I have lost more because they are using the public preschool program," she says.

Deena Ring, director of special services for Cape Girardeau public schools, says the district does not have any intent to compete with private preschools.

"We were hearing people who wanted to access preschool through us for one reason or another," says Ring.

Ring says the programs offered by the district follow a curriculum set by the state and are not-for-profit. She also says since the length of the programs are half-day, children are spending the other half of the day at a private preschool, at home or with a babysitter.

Clark says she realizes a public option benefits many parents with limited income, but sees a loss when parents who could afford a private school choose to use a school system instead.

"You just don't get that homey feeling when you go into the public school system," she says. "We now have the children of children we first had when we opened 30 years ago, and word-of-mouth about what we do here with the kids has always been our greatest resource."

She said she hopes area parents will continue to consider private preschool a good option for care, since there are several other schools in the area that have been in business more than 30 years, like A Small World. The preschools also support local businesses like grocery stores and cleaning services, Clark says.

She adds that she and her staff feel proud when kindergarten screeners for the school districts recognize readiness skills learned from A Small World.

"We do fill a need," she says. "We are not playtime; we are a school."

Another of Clark's concerns is how her taxes are being used by state and local governments.

"Money I pay in goes to schools, so I see it as my own tax dollars working against me and my business," she says.

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