As states focus on the economic, social and educational benefits of high-quality preschool, policy makers are looking for ways to strengthen state early education programs. The Pew Center on the States, in conjunction with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), has brought together state legislators, scientists, researchers and policy experts for a half-day seminar to discuss approaches to improving pre-kindergarten and other early education programs in the states. In 2004, the National Institute of Early Education Research found that the states vary greatly in the quality, resources and access for pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year olds. This year, lawmakers in 36 states considered early education legislation and 20 governors recommended increased investment in early education as part of their state budgets.
“Economists, business leaders, policy makers, scientists, education experts and community leaders have united around this issue for different reasons. Some see the educational benefits, others the financial return on investment and others understand the important of quality pre-k for later social and emotional development,” said Sue Urahn, director of State Policy and the Education program at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “These diverse constituencies share a common goal – a system of voluntary pre-k for all three- and four- year olds in the United States.
The seminar, Breakthroughs in Early Learning: Advances in Science, Economics and State Policy, is part of NCSL's annual conference in Seattle, Washington (August 16—20). It is also supported with funds from the Buffett Early Childhood Fund and Talaris Research Institute.
One third of children entering kindergarten cannot recognize the letters of the alphabet. More than half do not know basic math concepts. One in three do not know how to pay attention in class. As a result, teachers are forced to spend more time on basic classroom skills and behavior instead of the fundamentals of math and reading.
Research shows that attending a high-quality preschool can have a substantial impact on a child's success in school and in life: improving reading scores, high school graduation, employment and even home ownership; and reducing the chance of being held back in school, placed in special education and even involved in crime. Pre-kindergarten is one of the highlights of the seminar because of the momentum in states. States made over half a billion dollars in new investments in pre-kindergarten this year. Highlights from 2005 funding increases include:
These new investments are a key part of many states strategies to phase in pre-kindergarten for all who want it.
In addition to Urahn, other discussants at the seminar include: Robert A. Watt, vice president of The Boeing Company, Patricia K. Kuhl and Andrew N. Meltzoff, co-directors, University of Washington, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, Arthur J. Rolnick, senior vice president and director of research, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Jack P. Shonkoff, chair, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Libby Doggett, Executive Director, Pre-K Now, Joan Lombardi, Director, The Children's Project, and Steven Barnett, Director, National Institute for Early Education Research. Legislators participating include Representative Bill Fromhold, Washington, Representative Ruth Kagi, Washington, Representative LeRoy Dangeau, Arkansas, and Representative Roger Eddy, Illinois.
"States across the country are looking carefully at the research and making strategic investments in the early years. Since 2003, Arkansas has increased its commitment to pre-kindergarten by over 500% - and in the process we have focused on providing the highest quality program possible," added Representative LeRoy Dangeau, Arkansas. “In 2005, Arkansas added $20 million in new funds to expand pre-kindergarten. It is recognized by the National Institute for Early Education as a state with one of the highest quality programs in the country.”
Since 2001, The Pew Charitable Trusts has invested more than $42 million dollars in its early education initiative, Advancing High-Quality Pre-K for All, which builds public support for pre-kindergarten that is accessible to all who want it. Through the initiative, the Trusts works with researchers, business leaders, law enforcement officials and others who see value in investing in our children. The Trusts also funds organizations that conduct public education campaigns, provide information and research to help answer key questions on why and how to institute quality preschool for all children, and advocate for change where states are ready to advance major preschool initiatives.
The Pew Center on the States, a new project of The Pew Charitable Trusts, seeks to advance state policy solutions to critical issues facing the nation. The Center will conduct rigorous, nonpartisan research and policy analysis on issues of interest to state policy makers and will bring together leaders with differing perspectives and encourage consensus on pragmatic, proven solutions that result in positive change.
NCSL is the bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.