The beleaguered Madison Metropolitan School District approved a pre-kindergarten program at Monday’s Board of Education Meeting with a 5-1 vote. The 4K program is to provide an estimated 1,500 four-year olds with a half day of free education for an estimated $12.2 million. This new program comes amid a 15% drop in state funding, a 2008 referendum that increased spending by $13 million over three years and unprecedented local tax increases during a down economy when many property owners are struggling to make mortgage and property tax payments.
The new 4K program will be open to all families at no cost regardless of special needs, disabilities and language. Transportation will be provided by the school district. All 4K teachers must hold a four-year college degree and will be state certified and licensed. Eighty percent of Wisconsin School Districts already have 4K programs. Under state law, schools districts are required to provide kindergarten through 12th grade education—no pre-K programs.
Critics of the government run pre-school program see it as another that will continue to grow and require additional funding year after year. Responsible budgeting and spending should be a concern of all taxpayers. Other critics suggest that there are no conclusive studies that indicate that early education programs make a difference. Some even express concerns for early indoctrination of children. Despite the critics concerns, there seems to be mounting evidence that pre-school programs do make a positive difference in this era.
Family dynamics have changed from what they were 20-to-40 years ago. Today, most parents are working and spending less time with their children to work on basic skills. Previously, stay-at-home mothers, few with college or even high school diplomas, and certainly lacking state or local teaching or daycare certifications, provided the necessary preschool activities and skills to silent, baby boomers and baby buster (gen-X) generations.
This fact that mothers that raised these earlier generation children were able to provide the needed preschool education and skills without college education and teaching accreditation begs the question as to what is necessary to meet the objective of today’s preschool programs without driving up the price to taxpayers. Many private and community preschools already exist. Should the government replace the privately run alternatives or should it provide a supplement for those families that need an alternative as a result of financial or other constraints such as transportation needs?
The school district has considered different models with varying degrees of district oversight and professional staffing. Taxpayers should concern themselves over the various models as well as other alternatives including the cost, implementation and control of early education programs, rather than the value of early education.
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