JCPS drops $15 million federal grant; Commissioner Wayne Lewis 'deeply concerned'

JCPS drops $15 million federal grant; Commissioner Wayne Lewis 'deeply concerned'
A report on the JCPS Head Start program found multiple reports of maltreatment of students. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
A report on the JCPS Head Start program found multiple reports of maltreatment of students. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said he is "deeply concerned" about ongoing allegations of maltreatment and endangerment of preschool children in the Jefferson County Public Schools Head Start program.

This comes after JCPS gave up $15 million in annual federal grants that funded the program.

"As Interim Commissioner of Education and as a parent of a young child," Lewis said in a statement, "I am deeply concerned and troubled about ongoing allegations of neglect and abuse of children in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) Head Start program and the district's proposed solution, which is to walk away from $15 million in federal funds and associated scrutiny of the program."

A statement released by JCPS described the district's work in dealing with reported incidents and improving classroom care for children:

"JCPS has worked diligently and transparently to report any alleged incidents regarding Head Start, and this administration and board have instituted policies and procedures to address any issues moving forward. The district has increased training for employees, swiftly dealt with alleged incidents and improved oversight for classrooms. While we have seen a decrease in incidents, we know this is a sustained effort over time."

The JCPS statement went on to explain its decision to drop the federal grant for Head Start and the oversight that came with it:

"As discussed in our most recent board meeting, we knew in our discussions with Head Start that while federal officials acknowledged our progress, even one more alleged incident could result in a loss of funding. Our board and administration moved proactively to relinquish the grant and focus the district's efforts on providing safe and high-quality educational environments for three and four year olds to increase kindergarten readiness. These efforts include a commitment of $8 million in funding, certified or properly credentialed teachers in all classrooms and a move to early childhood centers to improve organizational coherence and oversight."

Parent and teacher organizations seem to understand the decision. In a system so large, another allegation of abuse might seem inevitable.

"You don't want students mid-year to lose the funding for their program," Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim said. "And I think that's what the school system's trying to address."

Some argue a climate of fear -- if one more incident would cause JCPS Head Start to lose funding -- would make reporting abuse more difficult.

"When you say, one person reports something where everyone can lose their job, you are creating an environment where no one is going to report anything," PTA District president Autumn Neagle said.

As mentioned in the above statement, JCPS is committing $8 million to continue services to pre-K children.

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