Early Education in the News
Florida's $82.3 billion budget for 2016 is its largest ever, but the preschoolers in Kathryn Sutton's class, marveling at the seedlings sprouting in their tiny garden, will miss out on that spending boost. For the third year in a row, the per-student funding for the Florida's Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program will remain flat — and will be less than it was a decade ago when it was brand new. The stagnant pre-K budget approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month has frustrated early-childhood advocates and educators, including those at Trinity Lutheran School in downtown Orlando, where Sutton teaches. They say state leaders have failed to meet the demands of Florida citizens who in 2002 voted in a "high quality" state pre-K. Free to the state's 4-year-olds, it began in the 2005.
Last fall, researchers at Vanderbilt University released the results of a years-long study on the impact of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program (VPK). This randomized control trial found that by third grade, some children who had participated in the program were performing worse on multiple academic measures than their peers who didn’t participate. This study sparked a lot of discussion and concern among researchers and policymakers about the value of publicly funded pre-K programs. There have been a host of new initiatives taking hold at the federal, state, and local levels in recent years because of evidence that high-quality programs can help close the achievement gap and have a strong return on investment. Pre-K proponents tried to figure out why children in Tennessee’s program, which on paper met a host of basic quality indicators, weren’t seeing long-term benefits. . .
But last week, lawmakers in Tennessee passed a bill signifying just the opposite– instead of scrapping the program, they decided to try to make it better. The new bill, which the Governor is expected to sign soon, takes a few important steps to improve VPK so that children experience additional benefits.
Thirty-one school districts in New Jersey, including Hoboken, currently receive state funds for free pre-K 3 and 4 programs in the public schools. Now, some legislators hope to increase the number past 100 (approximately a sixth of the state’s districts) so that low-income parents in the other towns won’t have to pay for early child-care services either. The School Funding Reform Act of 2008 mandated that 31 districts with a certain number of “at-risk” students offer full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children.
Democratic legislators introduced a bill this past February to offer money to additional districts to institute these programs. The legislature would allocate $110 million from the state’s Property Tax Relief Fund to the Department of Education to advance the initiative of additional full-day preschool programs. “It’s not going to be easy…but I think this is the beginning of an important discussion,” said Secaucus-based Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto at an event at School 17 in Clifton, N.J. on Feb. 9. Prieto, whose district includes East Newark, Edgewater, Fairview, Guttenberg, Harrison, Kearny, North Bergen, Secaucus, and West New York, is one of the sponsors of the bill, introduced on Feb. 8.
Pennsylvania's protracted budget negotiations stalled the expansion of new pre-kindergarten seats across the state this year. On Tuesday, one high-quality center in Far Northeast Philadelphia finally celebrated its delayed opening. State funds earmarked for pre-K expansion were released in late December, but logistics delayed the highly rated provider SPIN from opening a new 80-seat school in Parkwood until this month. Providing free, quality pre-K to all families in need is a top priority of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. He proposes adding 16,000 new city seats by 2020 with some proceeds of a 3-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. Even if that boost comes through, top pre-K providers say systemic concerns still will have to be addressed.
SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert waited until just before his midnight Wednesday deadline to veto three bills and budget line items in three others passed by the 2016 Legislature. "We had a late night last night," the governor's spokesman, Jon Cox, said. "The governor was working through things and constitutionally has until the day is over. … He took almost every minute of it." The vetoes included $3 million for the K-3 early intervention program and $1.5 million for the UPSTART online preschool program, about a third of the overall funding approved this session for both programs. The decision to reject some of the funding may be tied to the governor's re-election bid and the upcoming state GOP convention on April 23, University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless said. Cox said the decision was based on the effectiveness of the programs, not politics.
"The governor is on the record for being supportive of early childhood education. That has not changed," he said. "If taxpayer funds are not being used in the most effective way possible, we need to change course." The Legislature has until May 9 to convene an override session. Herbert said in his veto letters he would be willing to consider putting two of the three bills he vetoed on a special session agenda if some changes were made, HB377 and HB258. But the governor said he was erring "on the side of public participation" by vetoing SB87, which would have exempted the Utah State Board of Education from public hearing requirements during parts of the rule making process.
CINCINNATI - If all goes according to plan, voters could decide this fall if they want to fund preschool for all children in Cincinnati. "Preschool Promise" organizers held another meeting on Thursday night to get public input on the plan. The idea is to provide tuition credit to families based on income. Supporters say making preschool affordable will help give all children a chance at success. "So, what we're trying to do is create a routine funding steam that allows all families to access it depending on what their income levels are, so that families who have the greatest need receive the most and those who have less of a need receive less, but receive something because we know that preschool is a very expensive proposition," said Stephanie Byrd. The team behind preschool promise says it could cost between $15 million and $25 million to fund. They're still discussing whether an income or property tax is the best option.
JONESBORO -- An advocacy group for pre-kindergarten programs urged Arkansas legislators to better fund high-quality preschools to help eventually create a developed workforce and improved economy in the state. Preschool programs in the state need an infusion of $43 million, Rich Huddleston, executive director for the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said at a news conference Tuesday in Jonesboro. He said the money was needed to compensate teachers and assistants and to provide better education opportunities for the 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children who attend the programs. About 45,000 Arkansas children attend pre-kindergarten classes yearly, he said. "We need more funding," Huddleston said. "Pre-K is facing some tough choices. Will they cut corners? Have less children? Close doors? The Legislature has to make pre-K a higher priority." Huddleston, along with school officials, civic leaders and business representatives, held the news conference in the Jonesboro School District's Pre-K Center to tout the Craighead County city's support of the center. "Jonesboro is a leading example of what we want to see ... in collaborations with the school, business and the community," he said.
Just paying for basic child care takes a big bite out of the family pocketbook. And it costs even more if you want a real educational experience for your child, not just babysitting. In many cases, it costs as much as college. While families may have a college savings fund to build as a child grows, nobody's really starting a preschool fund for each new baby. It's a cost that strains the budgets of affluent families and puts overwhelming pressure on parents with low income. Without help from federal, state and local agencies, preschool would eat up 1/4 to 1/3 of the income of the low income families who most need it to help their kids keep pace with affluent peers.
The state budget approved by Utah lawmakers earlier this month includes an extra $2 million for UPSTART, an online preschool program children complete at home. That funding opens the program up to 7,800 students, or 20 percent of the state's 4-year-old population, Utah-based Waterford Institute announced on Monday. Families interested in enrolling can register at www.utahupstart.org.
As we've been witnessing during this current election cycle, American voters are frustrated with elected officials and candidates for public office. Voters across the country don't believe candidates are addressing their priorities – and candidates would be wise to listen to these frustrations and acknowledge them. Education is an issue that serves as a linchpin for many of the other issue concerns of voters, such as job security, economic opportunity, wage stagnation and economic mobility. Helping families and communities provide children with high-quality early education from birth to age five has emerged as a family issue which the vast majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents can agree upon and urge action. The overwhelming public support behind this issue is becoming impossible for Washington politics to ignore much longer. Despite the slow-moving nature of the current political environment, lawmakers are recognizing the strong popular backing behind early childhood education and seeing it as a mandate to increase early learning access across the country.
About 170,000 California children who are eligible for publicly funded preschool are not enrolled because there are not enough spots for them, a new report says. The report by the American Institutes for Research found that 33,209 4-year-olds eligible for California State Preschool programs were not enrolled and that 136,588 eligible 3-year-olds were not enrolled. Between 2008 and 2013, the report said, California cut early education funding by $984 million and eliminated 110,000 childcare and preschool slots. Early education advocates said the report’s findings showed the state’s spending in early education remains far behind what it needs to be, despite restoring 23,827 preschool slots in the last two years. There are currently 168,101 children in California State Preschool programs. “We are missing an opportunity to reduce achievement gaps when they are best addressed, before children start kindergarten,” Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, said in a statement, referring to persistent disparities in academic performance between lower-income, black and Latino students and higher-income, white and Asian students. Early Edge, an early education advocacy organization, commissioned the report. A growing body of research has found that early learning programs – if they include certain qualities such as appropriate teacher qualifications, family engagement activities and small class sizes – help prepare children for school academically, socially and emotionally, and improve their economic prospects. Studies have found that to be especially true for lower-income students, those learning English and others considered disadvantaged. The report, released Monday, found the greatest number of non-enrolled eligible children were in larger population centers: Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties. In those five counties, 115,824 3- and 4-year-olds were not enrolled in preschool or transitional kindergarten.
When former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his foundation was awarding $5 million to launch Providence's high-tech idea to improve the vocabularies of the city's youngest children, he said he hoped the pilot could take root in Rhode Island and spread across the nation. Three years later, more than 500 families have participated in Providence Talks, which uses wearable audio recorders to count every word spoken by toddlers and their parents in low-income households. Most child development experts agree on one thing: Poor preschool children hear far fewer words than wealthy children. That can lead them to fall behind in building early literacy skills, and, when they grow older, to do poorly in school.
Tennessee is doubling down on pre-K after a recent study found little lasting impact on children, leading to many questions about the quality of the state’s programs. Researchers from Vanderbilt University followed students in Tennessee’s statewide prekindergarten program — which was amped up in 2005 — and found that children who attended had only an initial bump in academic achievement before a “fade out” effect that showed they did worse than peers by third grade. Critics of pre-K across the nation have pointed to the study as evidence that spending taxpayer money on early education doesn’t have the big payoff many have long insisted it does and should be limited, if done at all. This was counter to numerous other studies that have found pre-K can help close achievement gaps and put students on track toward graduating and being successful in college. Supporters of pre-K were quick to criticize the findings, including the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has done one of the most-often quoted studies on the return of investment in early childhood education. So what does this mean for Texas? To be sure, policymakers and pre-K supporters/critics here — and nationwide — will be following Tennessee to see how/if addressing quality improves outcomes. That can significantly affect how future dollars are spent.
Pre-kindergarten advocates have pushed for a $20 million increase for the voluntary program, which they say would extend the program to 3,800 4-year-olds. Gov. Robert Bentley included the $20 million increase in his budget proposal in February. The House-passed version of the Education Trust Fund budget gives the program a $14 million increase, which would bring it to about 2,700 4-year-olds, about 25 percent of those who qualify. The budget is still pending in the Senate. Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, said they were “optimistic” they might see the full funding in the budget. But she said either would be a significant boost for the program.
An advisory committee on universal preschool established by Mayor Martin J. Walsh recommended that the city take the lead in creating and funding a public-private network of preschools of consistently high quality — but 15 months later he has yet to initiate such a partnership. Walsh, who received the recommendations at the end of 2014, kept the report under wraps, claiming it was exempt from public disclosure law. A summary of the committee’s findings was provided last week, after the Globe successfully appealed to the state Supervisor of Public Records.
In the meantime, the mayor beseeched Governor Charlie Baker in his second State of the City address to invest dramatically in preschool, a request so far rebuffed. And two weeks ago, the city scaled back its own additional funding for preschool — one of several budget adjustments made to stave off program cuts fiercely opposed by older students.
It's not just states and local-level decision-makers planning how to better invest in early childhood education. In his proposed FY 2016-2017 budget, President Barack Obama suggested a $434 million increase for Head Start, whuch would bring total funding to around $9.6 million. President Obama's budget also contains small increases to U.S. Department of Education special education programs aimed at infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mandates that pre-existing Preschool Development Grants, which are designed to “support coordination and alignment of states’ early learning systems” and “expand access to preschool,” will become permanent by law. The law also requires states to align their academic standards with relevant early learning guidelines, and lets districts use Title I funds for low-income children in early education programs if they meet Head Start performance standards.
LaRussa and more than 15 other students from Boston-area colleges gathered in front of the Boston Public Library Saturday morning to start conversations with passersby about a state bill to expand preschool programs. “There are proven differences in the educational outcomes of students who have pre-k as opposed to students who don’t, especially in districts that are underfunded and that have a disproportionate amount of minority populations,” said LaRussa. “Pre-k education is something that college students can have a voice on,” said 23-year-old Jon Hebert, a membership and policy coordinator at the national level for Students for Education Reform. “They’re just out of the system themselves.”
Bill H.462, sponsored by state Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch and Bill S.267 by state Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, would develop a grant program for high-quality pre-kindergarten education programs, prioritizing school districts with the highest need. Children from low-income families who attend preschool are 30 percent more likely to graduate high school, according to the pamphlets handed out by students, but the waiting list to get into state-funded preschool care in Massachusetts is over 5,000 people long, said Hebert.
In Mississippi, child care centers are often up against the odds when it comes to offering quality care and making improvements. The costs associated with setting up and maintaining centers are hefty, but, in the state with the lowest median income in the nation, daycare centers are often forced to keep tuition exceptionally low. With less income from tuition, daycare directors struggle to buy appropriate educational materials and furnishings, or pay workers more than minimum wage. Those low wages, coupled with the state’s low minimal requirements for child care workers, make it difficult to attract and keep qualified, experienced employees. A small group of organizations in the state work one-on-one with center directors, offering them guidance and resources beyond what is available from state agencies. Bit by bit, these organizations are raising the bar, if only for those centers that take advantage of their assistance. The efforts of center directors and the private groups who partner with them demonstrate that it’s not impossible for centers to provide good quality care despite financial obstacles, but going from mediocre to excellent can often take significant time and money.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has a sweet idea to boost early-childhood education in his cash-strapped city. In his first budget address, the freshman mayor proposed a 3 cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks that he says would generate $400 million over the next five years, more than half of which would be allotted to universal pre-kindergarten in the city. “There is simply nowhere else to find this revenue. We all know we can’t raise property taxes again,” said Kenney in his March 3 address.
Philadelphia’s proposal to expand pre-kindergarten is just one of several ideas percolating among city and state leaders around the country during this legislative year. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 450 bills with some tie to early childhood are pending in 46 states. At this early stage, it’s unclear how many of those proposals will be enacted into law. But if local and state lawmakers follow the trend of previous years, many places will see increased early-childhood investment.
The promise of the city of Seattle’s new subsidized preschool program — to bring low- or no-cost preschool to three- and four-year-olds across the city — is facing a challenge as the city struggles to find space and providers for the second year. Voters approved the four-year pilot program in 2014 as a way to help get kids from low-income families ready for kindergarten. While there are other government-subsidized preschools, like Head Start, wait lists are long, and only a small percentage of eligible children have seats.