Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why we should invest in our youngest children

From the St. Petersburg Times editorial page

A recent study in the journal Science is a reminder of the long-term costs Florida inflicts on itself by starving its voluntary prekindergarten program. The study of more than 1,000 inner-city Chicago children substantiates previous research that early childhood education is a foundation for long-lasting benefits for both individuals and society, including better employment and lower crime rates. Florida voters recognized that nearly a decade ago when they forced the Legislature to create the voluntary prekindergarten program. But the lesson clearly hasn't stuck.

The Chicago study tracked children for up to 25 years to adulthood, comparing those who attended preschool to those who didn't. The results were striking: A mere one to two years of preschool had some of the most enduring effects. Though several young students received extra services in grade school, the study's authors postulated that it was prekindergarten that best built the motivation, social skills and social adjustment low-income at-risk kids need to lift themselves above their high-risk environments.

But the state budget Gov. Rick Scott signed for 2011-12 cuts $30 million from the program, or 7 percent per student. This cut comes to a Florida program that was already struggling to meet voters' expectations. Lawmakers of both parties have, at various times, pledged improvement. Now the state's fiscal woes — fueled in part by Republican leaders' unwillingness to consider any new revenue — have further undercut a program that the state had already scrimped on. Not even Healthy Start, a program offering equally important prenatal services, was immune. Its budget has been cut by $5.15 million, or nearly 12 percent, for the coming fiscal year.

Florida's pre-K standards are woefully inadequate compared to those of other states. Lead teachers, the ones primarily responsible for overseeing prekindergarten programs, are required only to have a Child Development Associate Certificate — not a bachelor's degree. Nor is there a mandate to incorporate a research-based curriculum that best prepares young minds for the education that awaits. Meanwhile, the only public assessment of providers is whether former students are ready for kindergarten, not any assessment of whether pre-K played a role in the student's progress.

Even Florida's one strength — its student-teacher ratio — is becoming a distant memory. The state has raised the classroom enrollment ceiling from 18 to 20 in what former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr., a leading advocate for early childhood education, has called an "abomination."

Another class of Florida 4-year-olds will attend prekindergarten programs this fall with subpar standards and even fewer resources to educate them. Such shortsightedness makes for an unsettling tradeoff. For every dollar saved next year by doing education on the cheap, Florida taxpayers will pay exponentially more down the road.

No comments:

Post a Comment