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Education Reporter

Early-Childhood Schooling Programs Proliferate in States
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Several states are moving forward with ambitious plans for public preschool, while all-day kindergarten continues to spread.

Next fall, Florida will have a pre-kindergarten program ordered by a statewide ballot measure passed by voters in 2002. In a special legislative session in December, legislators approved a plan for three-hour pre-kindergarten classes offered largely by private preschool and child-care providers.

The Florida instructors would need some training but would not be required to have a college degree. Republican majorities in the legislature rejected Democratic proposals for longer hours and more teacher credentials. Thirteen other states currently require teachers in public pre-K programs to have a four-year degree.

The program is estimated to cost about $400 million per year. Early literacy skills, such as vocabulary and letter knowledge, will be emphasized. Still struggling to comply with a 2002 statewide class-size-reduction mandate, most Florida schools won't have space for the pre-K classes. Churches may participate in the program.

Georgia's lottery-financed pre-K program served as a model for Florida legislators. Classes may be held in Georgia churches as long as no religious instruction occurs during the hours that pre-K is offered.

Tennessee's Gov. Phil Bredesen hopes to set up a public preschool program this year. His plan, estimated to cost $200 million in the first year, will be financed by funds freed up by a restructuring of the controversial state health-care program. (Education Week, 1-5-05)

Full-day kindergarten 
Massachusetts is building a universal system for early education and care, according to the Boston Globe (11-19-04). Maryland is implementing full-day kindergarten.

Last May, Arizona lawmakers approved $25 million for full-day kindergarten in the state's poorest neighborhoods. About 44% of all Arizona 5-year-olds are enrolled in full-day kindergarten classes. Some charge a fee and others are fully paid for by the taxpayers. (Arizona Republic, 10-10-04) The Los Angeles school district is phasing in full-day kindergarten over the next several years.

About half of the public schools in the country now offer at least one full-day kindergarten class, up from 20% in the 1970s, according to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Nine states require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, with seven providing financial incentives for districts to do so. The governors of Indiana and Massachusetts placed full-day kindergarten at the top of their legislative agendas last year along with Arizona's Gov. Janet Napolitano.

While full-day kindergarten tends to be preferred by working parents because it alleviates the need for half-day child care, there is little solid evidence that it improves academic achievement as children move into 1st grade and beyond. (Education Week, 1-26-05)

Birth to age 5 eyed 
The National Governors Association may soon set its sights on children even younger than age 3. In late January it released a report recommending that states devise long-range plans for serving the needs of all children from birth through age 5. "Building the Foundation for Bright Futures" is the product of two years of work by the association's task force on school readiness.

Moreover, three Democratic governors have made early-childhood program quality rating systems part of their legislative agendas this year. Under proposals in Arizona, Iowa and Wisconsin, more highly rated child-care centers would receive more state money to serve low-income families, and more highly rated preschools would be more likely to be chosen to take part in the states' preschool programs.

Sixteen states already have some form of quality-rating system. Rating systems typically measure indicators such as staff-child ratio and the educational credentials of the teachers. (Education Week, 2-9-05)

In California, advocates of universal preschool are regrouping since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped derail a proposed statewide ballot initiative in the spring of 2004. Pending legislation would set forth a legislative intent that California develop a cohesive strategy to ensure that children have access to quality preschool programs.

In 2002 the Bush administration proposed an early-childhood initiative to help states and local communities strengthen early learning for young children. The initiative included a new accountability system for the federal Head Start preschool grant program and recommendations that states develop voluntary guidelines on pre-reading and language skills.

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