St. Louis, MO

What Happened on the Way to Kindergarten?

Children decide very little for themselves. Of course there is the “which cookie do you want?” or “what do you want to wear today?” The real, important things such as “what preschool or child care center do you want to attend? or, “which program meets your needs and provides the best for you?” are questions and decisions for adults. Sometimes, families make greatly deliberated decisions about where their children will spend eight or more hours a day, five days a week. Parents can readily find information about the quality of the program, consult professional organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) accredited list of centers (6380 accredited centers). Also, families observe centers’ classrooms and get to know the teachers, curricula and discipline policies.

But the majority of children are in a child care center, preschool, or pre-kindergarten program based on: 1. their families’ financial resources, 2. the location, and 3. the hours of the program. A February, 2011, report by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation found that selecting child care programs is one of three decisions being made at the same time by the parent; the other two decisions are employment and transportation. While parents try to find a program that meets their children’s needs, it also must meet employment parameters. And the final selection vacillates between the two factors.

Now ‘put into the mix’ what is available to families and children. Our three year economic ‘downturn’ has resulted in many states cutting funding for pre-kindergarten classrooms (often located in school districts). The result–there are fewer ‘free’, quality pre-kindergarten programs available.

Legislators continue to ignore the research that for every $1.00 invested in early childhood programs, such a pre-kindergarten classes, saves the state $11.00 in services when those preschool children become adults. The Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS), published in June 2011, had for 25 years followed children who attended quality preschool programs and whose families were involved in services. As teenagers and adults, they achieved more education, higher academic performance, and later earned higher salaries. These adults were less frequently involved with social services and the justice system. The CLS is another study confirming what those of us in early childhood education have been advocating for years.

“What Happened on the Way to Kindergarten?” is a question that must be guarded by the public. Cutting funding for child care assistance, pre-kindergarten programs, family literacy centers, and school-based community centers does affect our children. It does affect their readiness for Kindergarten and the rest of their lives!

Children cannot speak for themselves! They are not afforded conventional First Amendment rights. And in more subtle ways, some of their families do not have a ‘voice’ in the budgeting/legislative process. It is a problem and a responsibility for all of us. Speak up—advocate for children!

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