Archive for Thursday, September 16, 2004

Report finds Kansas lags in pre-kindergarten spending

September 16, 2004


— Despite budget problems across the nation, 15 states increased funding for pre-kindergarten education, according to a report released Wednesday.

Kansas was not one of them.

The report showed that 413,000 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide attended state-funded pre-kindergarten, a 17 percent increase from 2001.

"Our report shows that more children than ever are attending pre-kindergarten classes, yet still too many are being left behind," said Libby Doggett, executive director of the Trust for Early Education.

The trust is an advocacy group for pre-kindergarten. It is funded in part by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

In addition to the 15 states that increased funding for pre-kindergarten, the report found 17 states, including Kansas, kept funding levels flat. Because of inflation, the stagnant funding translated into a decrease in real spending.

Seven states decreased funding levels, 10 states provided no state-funded pre-kindergarten, and one was currently in the middle of its budget process, the report found.

Kansas spent $12.7 million, enrolling 5,453 4-year-olds in pre-kindergarten, according to the report.

Among neighboring states, only Nebraska spent less on pre-kindergarten. Oklahoma was recognized in the report as making great gains -- spending nearly $73 million on pre-kindergarten for 30,000 children.

Advocates for state-funded pre-kindergarten say the early learning will save money in the long run by helping students later avoid more expensive remedial and special education.

"Scientific evidence clearly shows that the quality of a pre-kindergartner's learning environment and social experiences lays the foundation for successes in K-12 and the rest of the child's life," Doggett said.

In Lawrence, the school district provides preschool to about a hundred 4-year-olds, but the demand is much higher, officials said.

"There are so many kids with needs, we probably could have filled up two more classes with no problem," said Korianne Daboda, administrative assistant to Cris Anderson, who is the principal of the East Heights Early Childhood Family Center, 1430 Haskell Ave.

As it is, the center has six all-day classes and two half-day classes.

Slots are reserved for children from low-income families or those with special needs.

There are at least 15 families on a waiting list to send their children to the preschool, and more have been referred to try other pre-kindergarten options, Daboda said.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office noted that her proposed $300 million tax increase for schools included funding to increase early learning, but that was defeated by the Legislature.

The governor did win extra funding that more than doubled Smart Start, which provides services such as day care and parental education. Those funds were taken from tobacco settlement monies.

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