02-16-2012

Beshear promotes preschool expansion plan

Kentucky Press News Service

LEXINGTON – Understanding the value that early childhood experiences play in the future successes of Kentucky’s youth, Gov. Steve Beshear Thursday discussed his proposal to expand preschool services across Kentucky.

Surrounded by preschool students at Dixie Magnet Elementary School in Lexington, the governor called for raising the eligibility level for 4-year-olds in families whose income is at or below 160 percent of poverty level in Fiscal Year 2014 and increasing it to 200 percent by the end of his term. The expansion is part of the governor’s biennial budget proposal now before the General Assembly.

“Too many children in Kentucky don’t get off to a good start in school. They start out behind, and they never catch up,” Beshear said in a statement. “Expanding preschool will directly affect those children who need help the most. Access to preschool services will prepare them for kindergarten, and they will more likely be engaged throughout their school careers to become productive adults.”

Kentucky currently provides funding to attend preschool for 4-year-old children in families whose income is at or below 150 percent of poverty level, and fully funds preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds with certain disabilities.

Nearly 40 children are enrolled in Dixie Magnet Elementary’s preschool program, and Beshear noted that the strong foundation built in preschool shows up in test scores in later grades. While nearly 50 percent of Dixie’s students qualify for the federal lunch program, the school has high percentages of students who score at high levels on annual tests.

Research suggests that each dollar invested on pre-kindergarten programs returns $60 to $300 over a child’s lifetime. The governor’s proposed expansion to 160 percent would cost $15 million, allowing 4,430 more Kentucky children to participate -- an increase of 18 percent. Expanding to 200 percent would add an additional 3,920 children, for a total of 8,350 more children who would benefit from services that improve their chances at a successful life.

“We know that in order to build a more vibrant and increasingly sophisticated workforce we must start with our youngest children,” Joseph U. Meyer, secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said. “As we increase access to preschool services, we also increase opportunities for more students to be competitive in a global economy.”

Numerous reports by the Committee for Economic Development, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan business-led public policy organization, show that high-quality preschool programs have long-lasting effects on student academic achievement. According to the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, children who attend high-quality preschool are more likely to be employed and have higher earnings as adults.

“By enhancing early childhood development, we actually improve a child’s ability to learn at later stages,” Terry Tolan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, said in a statement issued by Beshear's office. “It is without a doubt the best investment the Commonwealth can make.”

The governor’s preschool expansion proposal builds on his continued focus on early childhood issues. This month marks the three-year anniversary of the naming of the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education. Upon the task force’s recommendation, Beshear created the Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) by executive order.

ECAC’s work includes improving preschool and daycare programs to ensure every child is mentally and physically prepared for kindergarten the day he or she enters the classroom. A standard definition of “school readiness” has been created to ensure a consistent singular message and goal. The governor has also proposed legislation that will formalize the ECAC.