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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Push for more pre-K education has state, nation on right track

Friday, June 20, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

There is bipartisan movement toward making the most important step the nation can take to improve the quality of public education in the country, particularly in its urban cores.

It’s the growth of the idea that early childhood education holds the key to making quality gains in performance.

The latest evidence of this unifying movement in a politically divided country came this month when the National Governors Association issued a series of principles meant to encourage more state and federal partnership in improving access to quality pre-K programs for all American children.

This is a huge step. It sends a signal that states are ready to work with the federal government to help implement President Barack Obama’s goal that every 4-year-old in the country have access to a quality pre-K program.

Costly but valuable

That’s an expensive promise. Keeping it would cost at least $75 billion in federal funds, according to some estimates. But increasingly, it matches with goals set in both red and blue states.

In Missouri, the legislature this year passed House Bill 1689. It could gradually trigger funding for every school district in the state to provide quality pre-K programs for low-income children. It goes into effect in the 2015-16 school year for unaccredited districts such as Riverview Gardens and Kansas City.

Unfortunately, one of the districts that needs the help the most, the former Normandy School District (now called the Normandy Schools Collaborative) won’t qualify for immediate help. That’s because the state Board of Education took away the previous unaccredited status applied to Normandy.

Putting a different set of administrators in charge doesn’t automatically improve the district’s performance. The legislature should address this issue before 2015, assuming Gov. Jay Nixon signs HB 1689, which he should.

Bi-partisan backing

The early childhood education effort in Missouri has been pushed hardest by Mr. Nixon and Sen. Joe Keaveny of St. Louis — both Democrats — but passed with overwhelming Republican support.

Why? Because study after study has shown that money spent on early childhood education is a good investment. It saves taxpayer money and serves as a serious economic development tool. That’s why there is little political dissension over the issue. States as politically different as Oklahoma and Minnesota have realized that increasing access to quality early childhood education is a winner for children, for fighting poverty and for improving the business climate.

“This is the best thing that we’ve accomplished education-wise in my tenure and probably for 10 years before that,” Mr. Keaveny told the Post-Dispatch’s Virginia Young at the end of the legislative session.

The set of principles from the National Governors Association embraces the idea of spending more federal money on early childhood education while urging the federal government to give states flexibility in how they spend the money. Considering how differently each state funds public education, this makes perfect sense.

Congress should get on board the early childhood education train and pass legislation — and fund it — to encourage every state to adopt universal pre-K programs.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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