Brick Township will greatly expand its preschool program next school year, providing as many as 17 classes under a state funding program.
The state Department of Education announced on Thursday that Brick was one of 33 school districts across New Jersey to receive funding under the Preschool Education Expansion Aid initiative. Brick will receive one of the largest annual grants in the state – $690,965 per year – to staff the preschool classes. The program is aimed at creating an inclusive environment that provides early education for both general education and special education students. As it currently stands, Brick provides a preschool program for its special education students, as mandated by law.
“If we intervene early for students, there is less of a chance they need services throughout their time with us,” said Superintendent Gerard Dalton.
Dalton said the funding would cover the entire cost of expanding the program. This year, Brick began offering six new preschool classes at Warren H. Wolf Elementary School to “ramp up” in preparation for the expansion next school year. The district could add as many as 17 classes. The state grant calls for classrooms consisting of 15 students, a certified teacher and an aide.
“It’s appearing from our parent information sessions that there is very high interest,” said Dalton.
This year, a lottery system was used to randomly select general education students to attend the classes. District officials are still gauging interest for the 2019-20 school year, and may turn to the lottery system again if there are not enough seats. Dalton also said the district is mapping out where the classes will be held.
“For next year, what we’ll need to do is open up a registration process,” explained Dalton.
The state has committed to continuing the preschool aid program on a permanent basis, meaning it is not expected that the funding will cease after the program is implemented. Districts that were selected to participate in the program in the past have maintained their state funding for years, the superintendent said. One of those districts is Neptune, which was visited by Brick teachers recently.
“Our teachers traveled to Neptune because they’ve had it for years,” said Dalton.
“A child’s earliest years are a critical time during which rapid brain development occurs. These milestones inform their cognition, health and behavior throughout life,” said Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet. “Expanding and investing in preschool education is vitally important for the development of childhood education. Early childhood education provides the readiness skills they need for their academic career and prepares them for challenges beyond the classroom.”
Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement that preschool “is among the smartest investments we can make for the future of our state.”