TRURO — The school committee, which agreed last spring to completely eliminate tuition for preschool at the Truro Central School, decided on Feb. 13 not to enlarge the program to accommodate three-year-olds for a full five days a week.
The committee endorsed free preschool this year for four-year-old children of residents and town employees, and for however many three-year-olds could fit. The new policy was prompted by Provincetown’s 2018 decision to provide free child care and preschool for all infants, toddlers, and three- and four-year-olds of residents and town employees. The unique initiative had a ripple effect in Truro, where many Provincetown town employees live. With their students heading to Provincetown’s preschool, the Truro committee responded to the competition for a shrinking supply of students.
Provincetown’s “ambitious and noble” effort to support families is still the most generous in the state, according to Truro School Supt. Michael Gradone.
Wellfleet has had a preschool voucher program since 2015. And the Eastham Select Board is considering placing an article on the May town meeting warrant to provide a “family support package” including preschool vouchers for Eastham residents and employees, said Town Administrator Jacqueline Beebe.
Truro’s old preschool program, which the town partly subsidized for over 20 years, offered all four-year-olds of residents five days of preschool; any leftover space was allotted to three-year-olds. The preschool program costs well over $100,000 a year, with one full-time teacher and three assistants. Tuition payments totaled only about $35,000. Taking Provincetown’s lead, the school committee voted last year to eliminate tuition starting in the fall of 2019.
“The decision was driven by the obvious need to make Truro as family-friendly a community as we possibly can,” Gradone said.
Gradone said he researched other towns throughout the state and found that Provincetown’s program stood by itself. The next most generous programs are in Truro and Mashpee. Every other town, even wealthy suburbs, charges something for preschool, Gradone said.
“What P’town, Truro, and Mashpee are doing in lots of ways is leading the state down a path that will be followed,” Gradone said. “I’m very proud of the school committee for getting out front, and proud of the community for supporting it without question.”
The issue now is that more parents of Truro three-year-olds are interested in more classroom time. But accommodating all three-year-olds full-time would have essentially doubled the cost of the program and required additional space in the school, which goes up to sixth grade. Ken Oxtoby, chair of the Truro School Committee, said there would be no easy way to accommodate the space needs of a larger preschool. Currently it’s full, with 21 families participating.
In Wellfleet, voters responded to the challenge of helping working families with a preschool voucher program in 2015. The vouchers are available to all four-year-olds. Depending on the number of eligible students, each voucher is worth between $5,000 and $7,000 a year. This money can go to any state-licensed preschool.
The ripples are now reaching Eastham. Beebe is researching the cost of offering preschool vouchers for all four-year-olds along with a free after-school program, and possibly an expanded summer program. She said she is still working out costs. The select board may discuss it on Feb. 24, Beebe said.
Truro preschool enrollment for the 2020-21 school year opens on March 11. The program is open to resident children and children of town employees who turn three on or before Sept. 1. There is no fee for this program.
Call (508) 487-1558 for more information or to receive a registration packet. The registration form and enrollment request form must be returned to the school office by March 16.