|Back to Mar. Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 230||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||MARCH 2005|
|Early-Childhood Schooling Programs Proliferate in States|
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)
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)
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.