Local educators like the idea of President Barack Obama's recent preschool proposal but fear the change without funding aid.
First mentioning it in his State of the Union address last week, the president rolled out a plan to expand early childhood education. The government would work with states in funding and organization to establish high-quality preschool available to all American children up to age 5.
The McPherson and Marion County Head Start programs work with local school districts to better prepare children to enter elementary schools. McPherson USD 418 Superintendent Randy Watson said its operations provide students with a noticeable advantage upon entering kindergarten that would not otherwise be achieved. “Working with them earlier helps even out any gaps that can occur later on,” Angie McDonald, director of instruction at McPherson USD 418, said.
Penny Stoss, director at McPherson and Marion County Head Start, said the state's coordination between schools and the Head Start program gives them a leg up on preparing for a change they are ready for.
“The collaborations are built so we're ready to take it to the next level,” she said. “They're all clamoring to expand and this would give them what they need to do it.”
Stoss hopes the national and state governments would coordinate with programs that already exist. She would also like them to realize education at those ages should be given a holistic approach.
“To me, early childhood is about the whole child — that means academic, social, emotional and health,” she said. “My worry is we’ll loose focus of the whole child.”
The worry for local superintendents, however, is elsewhere. The nationwide plan came with no details about from where funding would come. There have been promises that the programs would not add to the nation's debt, but no information has been given about what funds will be cut or shifted to offset costs.
“Affordability is a concern,” Watson said.
Bill Seidl, superintendent for Canton-Galva schools, agrees.
“I can see the real benefits of this type of program,” he said. “Who's going to argue against helping kids? But the reality of it is, how much more can we take on? And if we take on more, what's going to be ignored or left out that we're currently doing? It's not that we're waiting around for other things to happen, we're trying to do the best we can with what we're mandated to do now.”
Chad Higgins, superintendent for Moundridge schools said a program like this would help at-risk students, who he said need more help before they enter school.
“I don't think there's any doubt it's a great idea,” he said. “But with the climate in our state government I don't expect any more support for education.”
Page 2 of 2 - McDonald said that if there is financial support for education, it should go toward fully funding kindergarten. Currently there is only aid for half-day kindergarten. McDonald said this would free up districts to determine what they would tackle next.
In Obama's plan, the government would fund public preschool for 4-year-olds in poverty at a more generous threshold than the current Head Start program. Obama also proposed letting communities and child care providers compete for grants to serve children up to age 3, and once a state has established its program for 4-year-olds, it can use funds from the program to offer full-day kindergarten, according to the Associated Press.
Stoss said she does not know where the money would come from, but the investment would be worth it.
“Money spent on early childhood is money well spent,” she said.
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