Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Early Childhood Education Must Be Missouri's Future

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Early Childhood Education Must Be Missouri's Future

Article excerpt

Missouri's Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro calls an effort to expand early childhood education in the state "the most important piece of legislation this year, or any other year."

Her counterpart in the federal government, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, calls increasing access to high-quality preschool programs "the No. 1" strategy the country could take to improve education at all levels.

Economists call early childhood education one of the most efficient investments government can make, returning an average of $10 for every dollar invested. It not only increases lifetime earnings but decreases taxpayer costs for corrections, social programs and mental health services.

Shortly after being inaugurated in January for his second term, Gov. Jay Nixon's first meeting was with early childhood education advocates.

President Barack Obama has made expanding access to early childhood education a top priority.

So, yes, early childhood education is a big deal. The trick now is to get the Missouri Legislature to do something about it.

As our nation has struggled to find solutions to under- performing public schools and states have seen their budgets squeezed by rising prison costs related to underlying social problems, an obvious solution has suggested itself. A growing body of evidence and growing political will have coalesced around the idea that investing in children early, in high-quality preschool programs, is the best solution.

In Missouri, lawmakers are considering a pair of bills sponsored by Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, that would help the Show-Me State do a better job of embracing that philosophy. Both bills would add early childhood education to the state's funding formula, allowing school districts to seek state reimbursement for offering pre-K programs. One of the two bills, which limits the program to funding students who qualify for federal free and reduced lunches, passed a Senate committee last week.

But it faces an uphill battle as long as some rural Republicans see any push for early childhood education as government overreach, or view it as an attempt to solve a problem in St. Louis and Kansas City.

In fact, early childhood works in rural America as much as it does in the city. It's already working in rural Missouri. Rural lawmakers who don't understand this should check with their local school superintendents or peruse the map that accompanies this editorial.

Department of Elementary and Secondary Education figures show that public early childhood education already is a fact of life in many parts of the Show-Me State. …

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