What Makes Pre-K in New Orleans So Complicated?

What Makes Pre-K in New Orleans So Complicated?

New year, new decisions. January is prime time for navigating decisions related to next school year. And if your child is currently 3- or 4-years old, you may be feeling particularly overwhelmed.

Take an educational age group that is historically under-appreciated and underfunded, an all-charter public school landscape, and a global pandemic that has had horrific effects on childcare at all levels. Needless to say, navigating pre-k options in New Orleans is quite complicated. 

As application deadlines approach, what will you do? Here are a few key questions and considerations to help.

Should I send my 4-yr-old to school?

If your child will be 4 years old next September, they are eligible to enroll in a number of pre-kindergarten programs. However, school at this age is not compulsory. Many parents make the decision to enroll young kids in school if they need childcare during the day; additionally, there are many other benefits of attending pre-k such as social interaction, fine and gross motor development, and exposure to new ideas and experiences.

Of course, if you’re considering keeping your child with you during the day, you’ll gain lots of time and memories with your little love. And if you’re not ready to part with your child full-time, there are some in-between options like half-day or partial week programs.

If the pandemic has you doubting an otherwise straightforward decision to send your child to school, I understand. If you’re worried about your child’s exposure to illness at school, some pre-k programs offer weekly COVID testing, enforce strict mask policies, and have recently enacted vaccine requirements for children over 5. (For more data on schools and pandemic safety, this is a helpful resource.)

enrolling your child in pre-K in New Orleans

School-based or center-based Pre-K?

Some elementary schools in New Orleans offer spots for 3- or 4-year-old students, while other elementary schools start in kindergarten. Most early childhood centers start with infants or toddlers and continue through age 4. So, when you’re looking for a pre-k spot, you have options in both early childhood centers (center-based) and elementary school (school-based) settings.

There are some general “pros” to each type of setting, but specifics will vary more by the individual program rather than the building type. A school setting doesn’t necessarily mean your child’s experience will be more academic, or less play-based, or that they’ll be learning bad habits from rowdy fourth graders.

That said, childcare settings are typically smaller, which may mean you’ll get to know the staff better. It can also be reassuring to leave your youngster in a setting that is completely dedicated to young children, where everything from the sinks to the play structures are designed for the 3-feet-tall-and-under crew.

However, there are also some amazing pre-k programs based in elementary schools. Schools that offer pre-k have done so by choice, so you can feel confident that the school cares very much about their youngest attendees. Teachers in school-based settings likely receive more professional development than those in childcare settings, and kids who enroll in pre-k at an elementary school often have access to more resources on site (I wish this wasn’t the case, but it tends to be true).

Wherever you enroll (or not), if your 3-5 year old has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), they are entitled to services from appropriate specialists. In a public school setting, these services will be provided on-site. In a center-based or private school setting, itinerant teachers may travel to the site, or you may be provided an option to walk-in and attend services at a different site from your child’s school. (If you think your child may benefit from special education services, consult your pediatrician and your child’s school district. In Orleans Parish, you can learn more here.)

Is Pre-K expensive?

Yes and no. Many families qualify for free pre-k programs in New Orleans. You can check your eligibility for these programs, and complete an application, through the New Orleans Common Application Process, due 1/21/22. (Free options are available both in school-based and center-based settings.) Through the application process, you may find out that you don’t qualify for free pre-k, but that you do qualify for tuition-based pre-k at a public school. (If you’re thinking “huh?” jump to the next section.) Tuition seats at public schools typically cost $4500-$5000 per year.

The cost for most private options in New Orleans ranges from $10,000-$20,000 per year. If you’re comparing cost between multiple options, be sure to find out additional fees for before and after care, supplies, daily breakfast and lunch, and any registration fees. Pricing structures for extended day care (think 3:00-5:30pm) tend to vary quite a bit.

If a private program is your top choice but you think it’s out of your price range, don’t take it off your list just yet. Many private programs offer generous scholarships, which may cover up to 80% or more of your child’s tuition. Scholarship offers are usually made separately from admissions decisions, and you can school-specific guidance by contacting admissions offices directly. Some private programs are also set up to accept partial payment through the Child Care Assistance Program.

What is a pre-k tuition spot at a public school?

Public school is typically associated with “no tuition,” which is true in grades K-12. (Public schools often have costs for materials, uniforms, field trips, etc. but these are limited.) However, pre-k is not universally funded in Louisiana. Rather, schools receive limited public funding for pre-k students based on family income levels, and for students who qualify for special education services (in most cases).

If you don’t qualify for free public pre-k, enrolling your child in a tuition-based public school seat may still be a good option. As stated above, pre-k tuition in New Orleans public schools typically ranges from $4500-$5000 for the year. An added benefit of tuition-based pre-k is that in almost every case, enrolling in pre-k guarantees your child a spot at the school in kindergarten. (You won’t need to re-do the school lottery process.)

Yeah, but, what should I do?

As a parent, whatever decision you make will be the right one for your kid. And if there’s any right answer to this question, it’s that you should consider your options. There’s still time to complete the NCAP for next school year. There are also many school tours happening this month, which can be key in helping you figure out your own preferences and priorities. And, even if you don’t plan to send your kid to school until kindergarten, getting a sense of what your options are now can’t hurt.

Please share your pre-k related questions and experiences below.

Maya lives in New Orleans with her husband, two daughters, and their beloved fur baby. She has 15 years of experience working in early childhood education, including roles in schools, local nonprofits, and state government. Maya currently works as a curriculum developer, where she gets to focus on one of her top interests, which is teaching reading. Her other top interests include her girls (of course), podcasts and audiobooks, anything outdoors in warm weather, and experimenting with new recipes.

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