Collaboration for Early Childhood report notes marked racial disparities in income, kindergarten readiness

Article by Wednesday Journal /

By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

A recent report prepared by the Collaboration for Early Childhood provides a portrait of the state of the early childhood population, as well as the educational services available to this demographic, in Oak Park and River Forest. The Collaboration is trying to track the progress, and service the needs, of area children ages zero to five.

The Collaboration entered into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Oak Park’s village government, District 97 and Oak Park and River Forest High School. Most of the statistical information about D97 was pulled from data collected by the district and shared with the Collaboration, which presented its report in May before the IGA governing board.

According to the report, 79 percent of kindergarteners in D97 in 2013-2014 “demonstrated readiness” based on the results of the Kindergarten Readiness Test (KRT). Moreover, students who were enrolled in the state’s Preschool for All (PFA) program “had the same percentage of demonstrated readiness.”

Among D97’s kindergarten students, nearly 60 percent of them attended a school- or center-based preschool in Oak Park or River Forest. The report notes that not all families in the area send their children to schools within town and that other families may forego sending their children to preschool due to economic hardship or the limited availability of full-day care.

For those children enrolled in center- or school-based early childhood programs in Oak Park and River Forest, the report suggests they’re in good hands. Of the approximately 405 people who comprise the Oak Park and River Forest early childhood workforce (i.e. teachers, assistants and center directors), about three quarters of them have “have met (21 percent) or exceeded (53 percent) the state annual professional development requirement of 15 hours.”

In Oak Park, roughly 13 percent, and in River Forest, roughly 12 percent, of households have children under the age of six. The Collaboration obtained this data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Decennial Census.

The Collaboration consulted the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 American Community Survey to identify the number and percent of Oak Park and River Forest children who are eligible for free and reduced school lunch, in addition to other safety net benefits. These households must have incomes that are between 130 and 150 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL).

In Oak Park, about 1 in 6 children below six-years-old lived in households with incomes lower than $44,000 in 2013, the report notes. Eight percent of Oak Park children, and about 2 percent of River Forest children, younger than six lived below the FPL. A strikingly large percentage of those children were non-white.

“What is noteworthy is that over a quarter of African-American children and children of other races in Oak Park and Asian children in Oak Park and River Forest live below the federal poverty level. Also, 15 percent of Hispanic children in Oak Park live in a household below the FPL,” according the report.

The report highlights another marked disparity in the percent of children in the Preschool for All and Head Start programs in Oak Park and River Forest who “demonstrated age-appropriate proficiency.” While 93 percent of PFA children who enrolled as D97 kindergarteners in 2013-2014 were rated proficient or advanced, “there were difference [sic] by race,” the report notes.

Whereas 17 percent of African American children were rated below expectations or basic/emerging; only 3 percent of white children and no “non-white, non-African-American children were assessed at below proficient.”

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