Parents-As-Teachers Facing Funding Cutbacks

Parents-As-Teachers, a much celebrated early education program founded three years ago in Newport County in Rhode Island, is under threat this year due to cutbacks in supplemental funding by the state. The PAT, which receives most of its money via Title I funding for childhood intervention programs, depends on additional help from the state to make up its $6,500-per-participant price tag.

One of the parents participating in the program, Martha Higham of Triverton, has been helping her 4-year-old daughter Genaveve prepare to enter pre-Kindergarten since she was one. Her efforts are supported by a parent educator Joan Macomber who visits the Higham family once a week to offer advice, support and materials Martha uses to help Genaveve.

“We love Ms. Joan coming to the house,” Higham said. “It’s a good thing. She’s like a second mother. Joan provides me with resources.”

The home visits are part of the Parents As Teachers’ national model, aiming to work with families to help their child grow up healthy, safe and ready to learn. It’s customized to meet the needs of each family, increase parent knowledge of early childhood development and support positive parenting practices.

“They are letting us know their needs,” Macomber said. “We try to gear our visits to their concerns. Parents as Teachers is strongly based on getting kids ready for kindergarten.”

The participants also get together in the local school to give the children socialization opportunities, as well as give the parents a chance to share their experiences and challenges they encounter and seek support from others. Currently, five Tiverton parents are enrolled in the program, though last year as many as 10 were coming were regularly attending. Macomber handles the screening process for families who indicate an interest in the program, which includes a voluntary and confidential interview to determine eligibility as well as home visits. When Macomber first came to Tiverton three years ago, the program had a problem attracting families, but now there’s a waiting list, according to the Diane Sanna, Curriculum Director for Tiverton Schools.

“It fluctuates depending on whatever supplemental funding we have,” Sanna said in an interview last week. “This year we’re very bare bones. Last year when there was extra state monies available, we had evening sessions open to any familiy in Tiverton. One focused on nutrition, [and] another focused on sleep habits. We also had [child] psychologist Dr. Adam Cox come in.”

Sanna said at one point they had two parent educators working in the program, but that was cut last year since it was through state funding that dried up.

Rhode Island was one of only five states to meet all the standards set by the U.S. Department of Education for quality early education programs, according to a report released by National Institute for Early Education Research earlier this year. The achievement can in part be attributed to programs such as Parents-As-Teachers. Unfortunately, recent budget cuts for such programs mean that the state might be unable to repeat the feat next year.

Sanna said the price people are paying to have Parents As Teachers available is a valuable investment because if they can find families early on with learning issues, educators can get the child ready for kindergarten and beyond.

“I’m hoping that the state will pick up on it and find funds to support it more widely in Rhode Island,” she added.