Nicole Desjardins
Nicole Desjardins

Early childhood education, in the form of a preschool or pre-kindergarten program, is one of the key building blocks for a successful progression for students through the educational system, and developing into successful adults within their chosen career path.

While not essential, it does provide many key stepping stones, including often times a child’s first interaction with peers, a gradual transition into a classroom setting, a fundamental understanding of rules and order, and lastly and most importantly, many of the key educational concepts.

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Some of the programs are run by private organizations and some are run by the school system, but in all the different formats provide the basic groundwork for kids to enter kindergarten.  Unfortunately, not all children have access to such a fundamental early education program; either because their parents can’t afford it, or a quality program is not available in their area.

Some states, such as Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida, have passed laws guaranteeing universal pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in their states.  The Connecticut legislature has recently taken up debate about this very issue.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has made increasing educational standards in Connecticut one of the hallmarks of his administration, and he believes increased access to preschool for underprivileged children is one avenue to achieve that aim.    The proposal currently being debated in the state legislature is to provide state funding to towns to increase access to preschool.

“Supporters of the plan point to a growing body of research demonstrating a connection between preschool education and later academic success,” the Hartford Courant reports.  The proposal would fund preschool for 4,000 4- year-olds in the state each year.  While this is a good idea, and a positive first step, it doesn’t go far enough and Connecticut’s legislature should be pushing for complete universal preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state.

Under the governor’s proposal, the state funded (which means taxpayer funded) program will provide preschool to low-income families that qualify for state aid in other areas (free school lunch for older siblings for example).  There are many families in the state who are paying out of pocket for their children to attend a preschool program because they believe it is in their child’s best interests to be in the program.

Under the governor’s proposal, those hard-working middle-class families who are sending their own children to preschool, now have to shoulder an increased tax burden to pay for 4,000 other kids to attend preschool as well.  State officials estimate  the cost for this program will be roughly $50 million/year, or $12,500 for each of those 4,000 kids.  If the governor believes so strongly in access to preschool, then it should be universal in this state, so the families that don’t qualify for other state aid receive the same benefit.

State benefits, such as free lunch, food stamps, etc., are meant to try to even the playing field for disadvantaged people, not to give some a head start ahead of others.  By providing preschool to some families and not to all, the state will leave behind those that earn too much to qualify for state aid, but not enough to pay to send their children to costly preschool programs.

In a press conference in Bloomfield to kick off this initiative, the governor said “Increasing access to pre-kindergarten will level the playing field so that every child can come to school ready to learn.” It will level the playing field with children who are already attending preschool, but push them ahead of those not able to afford to send their children to a preschool program.

These children will be faced with many of the same challenges as those with the state funded preschool, but without the skillsets that preschool provides.  It doesn’t seem right for the state to choose which districts receive the funding, and then for those districts to decide who gets the state-aid.

Lastly, we should be advocating for universal preschool in Connecticut for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do for these kids.  Who can be opposed to providing the right educational groundwork for 4- year-olds so they can get started on the right foot in school?

Education is a right for all children.  Since preschool programs have expanded so much over the last few decades, there is anecdotal evidence that parents must think it is beneficial for their kids, or they wouldn’t continue to send their younger kids to preschool.

If we as a society believe all kids should have access to a free public education starting at 5 years old in kindergarten, why would we not provide them with the tools to be as successful as possible?  Would you want an unlicensed electrician working on home repairs in your home, or would you want someone with the skillset to do the job right?  So why would we let our children attend kindergarten without the skillset to be successful?

While universal preschool has many positives, there are detractors who oppose the program in Connecticut and in other states.  While there are numerous reasons to oppose the program, one of the most common is the combination of the cost and the lack of documentary evidence to support the programs.

Georgia and Oklahoma were two of the first states to implement the programs (Georgia in 1993 and Oklahoma in 1998) and according to a report by the conservative Heritage Foundation, both rank below average for fourth-graders in reading scores on standardized tests.

Many critics point to this fact as evidence that universal preschool programs don’t work and taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for them.  “In Oklahoma, fourth-grade reading test scores have declined since 1998 when the state first implemented universal preschool,” the Heritage Foundation reports.  This is a logical fallacy because there is no direct correlation between universal preschool and fourth grade test scores.  There are numerous variables other than, universal preschool not being effective, which could impact the scores in fourth grade.  It is a hasty generalization to pin it solely on universal preschool.

Every property owner in Connecticut pays local property taxes.  The largest single outlay for a local town is for the educational budget.  Every property owner, regardless of whether he or she has kids attending the school system, pays for the school system from kindergarten through high school; but it is not enough.  We are still slipping behind other states and other countries.

The Connecticut legislature has taken the first step towards universal preschool by passing a bill to provide preschool to 4,000 children each year; but we need to do more.  Use your standing as citizens in the town you live in to speak out for universal preschool.  Write to your state legislators and tell them 4,000 children are not enough.  We will be better served by having universal preschool in Connecticut, just like we are better served by having free public schools.  Education is a right not a privilege and we all need to provide that right to every 4- year-old in this state.

Nicole Desjardins is currently a student at Goodwin College working toward her RN and later returning for her BSN degree.  She is a resident of Meriden and a mother of five, the youngest of whom is a 4-year-old in a preschool program. 

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