The Washington Times - July 22, 2008, 11:54AM



  • Question:

  • The Washington Times welcomes the Hon. Vincent C. Gray, chairman of the D.C. Council, who will discuss the legislation he sponsored to create pre-kindergarten classes for all District children. Also joining us is Jay Speights, mayor of the Interconnections community on, who will moderate the chat. Good afternoon, gentlemen. by jlea
    Answer: Good Afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to participate in this chat on the important pre-k legislation. by Vincent_Gray
    Answer: Good afternoon, Chairman Gray and Jeff. Mr. Chairman, it’s a pleasure to have you here to discuss this important issue that will change the nature of pubic education in the District of Columbia. by Jay_Speights

  • Mr. Gray, what does this legislation accomplish? by Jay_Speights
    Answer: The historic legislation that the Council passed in May ensures that by 2014 all three- and four-year-olds in the District will have access to high-quality pre-kindergarten program. The Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act formally places pre-k as the foundation for school reform, ensuring children’s success in school and life. The bill seeks to improve the quality of existing programs and expand slots in public schools, public charter schools and community organizations. by Vincent_Gray

  • There was a broad coalition that supported this legislation and worked for its enactment. Could you tell us a little about it? by Jay_Speights
    Answer: The Pre-K for All DC Campaign, co-chaired by Carrie Thornhill and Terry Golden, was at the forefront of the community effort supporting my bill. The campaign assembled an outstanding steering committee of education experts, advocates and strategists, which received the backing of the business community to ensure passage and follow through for implementing the bill. Jesse Bailey served as coordinator for the effort and did a fabulous job. by Vincent_Gray

  • As a native Washingtonian, do you feel that this legislation helps to bridge some of the disparities between the high- and low-income areas of the city? by Jay_Speights
    Answer: Yes, this will provide children with educational opportunities much earlier in life and help to overcome what far too many of our children do not get at home in preparing them for a formal educational experience. It also will provide a new opportunity to help young parents become better parents. The focus will be on both the children and their parents so they can better support their children at home. by Vincent_Gray

  • The law goes into effect today. When will parents and children begin to see changes in D.C.’s pre-K classrooms? by Jay_Speights
    Answer: The pre-K program is being implemented by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education or OSSE. The Council included $9.5 million in the fiscal year 2009 budget to begin the program in the fall. We also included $900,000 in the current year so that expansion could begin immediately. The $9.5 million will enable us to add 600 new slots next year. Changes will evolve over the next five years. The legislation requires OSSE to conduct two studies to guide the planning and implementation of the program. One will determine the current capacity and availability of pre-k slots while the other will measure the overall quality of programs across all sectors. The bill further requires OSSE to submit to the Council a report by September 2009 that establishes benchmarks for on-going assessment. A five-year expansion program also is required, and OSSE will develop requirements in areas such as curriculum, facilities, teacher certification and parental support. by Vincent_Gray
  • I’ve been following developments in education policy around the country and have noted a trend whereby courts require states to provide pre-K programs even if the people and legislators of the state don’t feel that this is a good use of available funds. What is the sense of the people of the District on the need for spending money on pre-K programs, and how can you measure or gauge public opinion in the city on this question? by JJ
    Answer: The people of the District have been supportive of investments in pre-k. When the bill was originally introduced, it was either co-introduced or co-sponsored by every Council member, which I construe to be a reflection of support from the people they represent. At the public hearing, everyone was supportive, with the testimony focusing on how we make this effort better. The residents of the District recognize this as an investment in children, families and the city overall. This will help to reduce costs later because children that would otherwise fall behind in school, end up in special education or in the juvenile justice system will benefit from pre-k early on. by Vincent_Gray

  • Mr. Gray, will this new push for pre-K be just an expansion of pre-K as we know it, or will there be any wholesale changes made to early childhood education? by DaveCarson
    Answer: There are two emphases. One increases the number of slots available to serve children, which is an expansion. However, the other focuses on the level of quality in each program. A focus on quality will result in many changes as new standards will be established and by 2014, all programs will be required to meet these standards so that we can guarantee the kind and level of education our children are receiving. The legislation provides two kinds of grants to help with quality. One grant is available to help staff to increase their skills, and the other is available to help programs improve their services and meet the applicable standards by 2014. by Vincent_Gray

  • Mr. Chairman, we’re coming to the end of our hour. Thank you for taking the time today to discuss this important topic for D.C. families. And thank you, Jay, for your help today. Mr. Gray, do you have any final words for our readers? by jlea
    Answer: I want to thank all who joined this chat. I am delighted to have an opportunity to go over some provisions of the bill and what implementation will entail. The more opportunities we have to inform the public of the program, the more successful we will be. Thanks again to Jay and the online community at The Washington Times. by Vincent_Gray