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County Raises Income Gap for Preschool

The income ceiling for families applying to Arlington’s preschool program is now $62,000.

Parents of pre-schoolers in Arlington will have a better chance of enrolling children into the local Montessori and Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) programs. The school board approved revisions to the admissions policies of both March 25, raising the income cap that determines a student's eligibility, to grant broader access.

"There's quite a bit of demand for those programs in our schools," said board chairwoman Libby Garvey.

Garvey added that Arlington Public Schools is considering an expansion of the Montessori program into middle schools. School district staff, she said, is now compiling a report on the feasibility of that idea. It's release is expected in April. The change in guidelines raises the income level to $62,000 for families applying to both programs. According to Sarah Lochhead, early childhood supervisor for Arlington schools, the prior standards granted students access to the programs if they qualified for free or reduced lunches under federal mandates or came from families making $52,000 per year. By raising the bar, she said, more students will be able to attend.

"In essence, it allows us to create more opportunity," she said. "One of our goals is to provide greater access to preschool."

The VPI, a statewide program for 4-year-old students, was the initial catalyst for the changes. Arlington schools, Lochhead said, had considered raising the income standard for VPI and later added Montessori to the proposal to ensure the requirements are equal between the two pre-school programs.

"We thought we'd need to be consistent," she said.

LOCHHEAD ADDED that last year, Arlington schools had about 5 slots open in the Montessori program. Opening up the admissions standards will fill those seats. Admission to the programs, she said, is based on a list of priorities. Students getting federal lunches are still the top priority for both programs. Any remaining seats will be filled based on the applicant's economic status.

Lochhead said about 336 children are currently enrolled in the VPI program. About 352 are in Montessori. The number of students in Arlington's pre-school classes has increased, according to a 2002 report from its Office of Early Childhood. It states that in the VPI program alone, enrollment has risen from a total of 96 students in the 2000-2001 school year to 224 students between 2002 and 2003. In the Montessori program, implemented in the 1970s, student enrollment remains at a consistent rate. About 375 students attended Montessori classes in 2001. In 2003, that figure stood at 336.

Applications for Sept. 2005 placement into either of the programs are due by Friday, April 15. VPI classes are offered at all Arlington elementary schools. Montessori is available at six schools.