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Commentary: Missouri Lags Behind On Pre-School Education

teacher with two young children
U.S. Department of Education

Over the years, many studies have shown the benefits of pre-school and early childhood education. Recently those studies have been re-analyzed and confirmed to be accurate and correct. Thus, many states -- whether the voters are predominantly Democrat or Republican -- have implemented pre kindergarten and early childhood education programs.

For example, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Virginia all have vigorous and comprehensive pre-kindergarten and kindergarten access. Many other states, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Vermont -- have comprehensive early childhood programs. Missouri only has state approved kindergarten.

Early pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs are now being proposed in legislative sessions in California and Indiana. And Oklahoma has funding for these programs embedded in the state school formula, available to all school districts. For example Tulsa’s program has become a model as it has long-term research that shows its value to students all the way through school and into the future on college achievement, and job success.

So where does Missouri stand, the state known as the “show me state”? As of the end of February, no legislation for such extensive programs attached to school districts and state funded has even been introduced. And the demand is great.

However, fortunately for our region, the state has allowed the St. Louis Public School District to create and implement early childhood programs, mainly initiated during the settlement discussions from the school desegregation case. This opportunity has allowed many St. Louis children to get that necessary early school start which is so very important.

You may ask why Missouri is not joining these other states in providing statewide early-childhood and pre-kindergarten programs. Shouldn’t all children get this opportunity? The answer is a resounding yes, but the state Legislature insists that the resources are not available. That is such a sorry excuse.

Research has shown, in Buffalo, N.Y., for example, that children with an early educational start move ahead faster, are more interested in their work and achieve more than their counterparts. Buffalo no longer has a need for special education programs for young children. Children with an early background in an educational setting are more likely to stay in school, less likely to drop out and have fewer suspensions or expulsions as they have learned what school is all about, how to follow rules and have more respect for others.

Yet, I continue to come back to Missouri. I would think it would be less costly in the long run to have early education programs than to have children left to less-effective alternatives. Many of these children do not get a good early start and often fall further and further behind academically.

Will Missouri ever learn? Legislators, there is still plenty of time to file bills that would support early-education programs in this legislative session, promote them and work hard to get them passed. What a difference that would make to so many children and, in time, for our state as well. Early learners make great citizens in later years. Please take notice Missouri legislators!