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Archive for Friday, February 16, 1996

AT-RISK PRESCHOOL DRAWS CRITICS

February 16, 1996

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Members of a conservative tax reform group are questioning the need for a preschool program operated by the local school district.

James Richie doesn't want people to think he's an old scrooge. But he's concerned that his tax dollars may be used to operate a preschool for Lawrence children who are at risk of not succeeding once they reach elementary school.

Richie is one of several members of the Douglas County Property Owners Assn. who've questioned the need for the preschool and questioned how it ultimately would be funded.

He thinks the school district has no business involving itself in preschools. He thinks the private sector and publicly funded entities, such as Head Start, already fill that role.

"There is a system already in place," he said.

But Supt. Al Azinger said plenty of Lawrence youngsters aren't attending preschool but should be.

"And that becomes evident when they come to school," he said. "Unfortunately, if we don't do some support early on, there are way too many of those kids who don't catch up."

The Lawrence Business-Education Partnership has agreed to raise $45,000 for the first year of the school's operation. The school district would provide space for such a school.

The preschool would target children from low socioeconomic families.

"Preschool is a proven method of pulling people out of poverty," Azinger said.

He and other school officials say it's a choice of investing money now in preschoolers -- or investing money later in welfare and incarceration.

"We're going to pay for these guys today or we're going to pay for them tomorrow," said Hank Booth, who traveled with three school district officials to Louisville, Ky., in January to view that school district's preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Booth is active in the Lawrence Schools Foundation and the school-business partnership.

Who pays?

So far, the Lawrence school board has approved a resolution supporting the preschool. However, board members have said they do not want to be saddled in the future with the cost of operating the program.

This week, the local Davol plant donated $2,500 for the preschool, which would operate on an all-day, year-round basis.

Richie and others say private money may finance the first year -- or first few years -- of the preschool. But then, they ask, what happens if the private money dries up? Will the school district turn to taxpayers for funding?

Don Cashatt, co-founder of the Douglas County Property Owners Assn., said he's concerned about a bill under consideration by the House Taxation Committee.

The bill would impose a 2 percent excise tax on gross receipts from cable, community antennae and other subscriber radio and television services to finance grants to school districts for early childhood education. The grants could be used for such activities as full-day kindergarten, expansion of parents-as-teachers programs and help for preschool-age children who are at risk of failure in school.

The grants would target children who are at least 3 years old but who haven't completed kindergarten.

"We find that there's a bill that's already been prepared and introduced to the House Taxation Committee and they're asking for money for a tax ... to pay for something that they're leading us to believe that's going to be funded by private donations," Cashatt said.

Business backing

Chris Anderson, who coordinates a Lawrence school district program that integrates adult education for parents and early childhood education, spoke in favor of the bill.

"We are fortunate to have a strong business-education partnership in Lawrence," Anderson's testimony said, "but we can not rely on local businesses to fund our educational programs."

Anderson said she was asked to testify by Rep. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, Kan., who introduced the bill.

"When we look at times when monies are so short, and we need to be spending our money in the best way we can, I still feel that putting some money into early childhood education programs is a good investment," Anderson said in an interview.

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