Year of Government-Paid Preschool?

The Wichita Eagle wonders if 2007 will be the Year of the Preschooler. The reason: the Legislature will discuss plans to expand the state’s role in the preschool business.

The governor would like to spend $2 million of tax money, and she’s got the backing of some business interests. An advocate of organized pre-school is rather excited about the prospects of expanding the state’s Pilot Pre-K program.

Says the Eagle’s Suzanne Perez Tobias:

“Kansas certainly has room for improvement. A statewide study released last year showed that more than half of Kansas kids start kindergarten unprepared to learn. And a new Education Week report ranks Kansas among the lowest in the country in per-capita spending on early-childhood programs.”

And yet if Kansas is regularly touted as a top state–“everything is fine here, no need for vouchers or charter schools–why the rush to pre-K?

Several important groups will be advocating it anyway, including the Kansas Health Foundation and Visioneering Wichita. Advocates point to academic benefits and studies of brain development.

Says Marni Vliet, director of the Kansas Health Foundation,

“This is the time to think about flip-flopping where we put our resources. If we start to focus on the beginning of the cycle instead of the end, we wouldn’t be in the Band-Aid business. We’d be in the prevention business.”

Does this mean that upward pressure on K-12 spending would go down if pre-K was universal? Given the track record of government, that’s not likely.

Of course, funding all this will be another issue entirely. The best programs that we’ve seen call for spending on a scale that rivals if not exceed a full year of K-12 school.

Advocates are calling for a mix of providers, which in itself is a good thing.  Says Jim Redmon, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, “We want a mix of pre-K sites, whether that’s at a school, a child care center, a private preschool, a church….”

Source: “Year of the preschooler,” Wichita Eagle, January 7

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