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The Importance Of Making Pre-K Programs Available To All Children


Earlier this month, youngsters poured into three new pre-kindergarten classrooms in Wilmington, North Carolina to start their educational careers. The project had been in the works for months with the district receiving $476,000 out of the county budget to help get the pre-k classes up and running and boosting the district's pre-K slots from 792 to 837. There’s a growing push for publicly supported pre-K classes to shift from what was once considered an “educational luxury” to programs accessible for all, with more educational experts stressing their importance.

“Successful pre-K [programs] teach children to learn to be learners, how to be curious about how things work and find answers to problems,” Suzanne Bouffard, author of The Most Important Year, told NPR. In the past,  targeted programs in some states have served at-risk children, though experts now seem to be in agreement that all children benefit greatly from high-quality education programs before they hit first grade. Bouffard pointed out that executive functioning — the ability to manage one’s thoughts — begins to develop at age three or four and a good pre-k program helps children learn to acknowledge things like  “how to deal with frustration and how to solve conflicts” in a healthy way, earlier rather than at age six or seven.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the benefits of high-quality pre-k programs don’t merely help kids out as they enter kindergarten and first-grade, but continue on with higher high school graduation rates even higher earnings as adults in the workforce. On the flipside, children who enter school behind their peers, usually stay behind. For example, 84 percent of children who have poor reading skills in first-grade will still struggle in reading at the fourth-grade level. Recent changes show that policymakers are taking notice.

In 2016, 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, provide publicly funded pre-k programs, according to a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Those programs serve nearly 1.5 million children across the country — and total state spending on preschool is now about $7.4 billion. That’s eight percent higher than the previous year.

For Superintendent Tim Markley of Wilmington’s New Hanover County Schools, the funds to start more pre-k classrooms reassures him that the county has the right mindset in regards to education. “The fact that the county has put money where its plan is speaks volumes to the priorities of the county,” Markley said.

In 2015-16, the district had seats for less than half of the nearly 2,000 young students whose families had applied for a spot. Bruce Shell, who serves as the school board’s liaison for the federally funded pre-k program, Head Start, stressed the importance of making more classrooms available for children in the community in order to give them the best possible chance at success down the road.  “What we are trying to accomplish is to have these children so that when they come in, they’ve got a fair shot,” Shell said.

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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