Demand rises for Peninsula preschool spots 

An increase in demand for early childhood education has pushed some parents to wait in line in cold and wet weather to ensure they obtain a spot at Peninsula preschools.

Jeanie McLoughlin, director of the early childhood quality improvement project of the San Mateo County Office of Education, said the demand could be a result of increased importance in all levels of government.

“Even our president is talking investment in early education,” she said. “Pre-K is one of the more significant and stronger impacts for children to be more ready when they go to kindergarten.”

Dozens of preschools — public and private — began open enrollment for the 2010-11 school year this month.

Parent Jeff Burgos said he noticed a line of several dozen parents at the Merry Moppet Preschool in Belmont when he dropped off his 6-year-old son at kindergarten at Belmont Oaks Academy on the same campus. Enrollment did not open until Saturday, but parents were on the sidewalk Thursday and Friday morning.

“It’s been getting worse,” Burgos said of the lines. “For a preschool, it’s pretty pricey, but in this economy, I guess it’s good [that] people are still considering education.”

Burgos said the preschool has been operating on a first-come, first-served basis for many years, but the lines brought complaints from neighbors. School officials went to a lottery system where parents fill out applications and students are selected at random.

Merry Moppet has 150 spots for preschoolers. Acceptance letters will be mailed out no later than Friday, according to the school’s Web site.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

Enrollment in preschools throughout the state has increased since the early 2000s.

In 2004, 1.17 million children in California were between the ages of 3 and 5. Roughly half those children were enrolled in a preschool or day care, according to the California Research Bureau.

An estimated 293,300 children were enrolled in public preschools in 2004, the bureau said. Another 256,300 children were in private schools.

In 2006, the state Assembly increased funding to preschools by $50 million to encourage early education for all families.

An increase in preschools ultimately leads to an increase in elementary schools. Districts throughout San Mateo County already are addressing capacity issues, including the San Mateo-

Foster City Elementary School District, which plans to build a fourth elementary school in Foster City.

Annagi Liles, director of Redwood International Montessori School in Redwood City, said she has noticed the increase in demand for the 48 spaces at her preschool, too.

“Even in this economy we’ve had one of our best summer enrollments yet,” Liles said. “I have to hire a new teacher because of it.”

Counting kids

Preschool enrollment statewide has increased since the early 2000s.

- 1.17 million: Children in state age 3 to 5 in 2004
- 293,300: Children enrolled in public preschools in 2004
- 256,300: Children enrolled in private preschools in 2004
 -$50 million: Increased funding for early childhood education in 2006

Source: California Research Bureau, California State Library

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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