(See more of Grothman, speaking at a tea party rally last year at:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BincmtWINMs)
State ranks 6th in prekindergarten access
By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel April 26, 2011
Wisconsin receives a positive review in a national report released Tuesday that explores children’s access to high-quality, state-funded prekindergarten programs, coming in sixth in the country in terms of the percentage of youngsters served.
But state-level funding nationwide for 3- and 4-year-old prekindergarten programs has dropped as a result of the recession, and most states are struggling to maintain what they have rather than raise the number and quality of programs that can pay dividends later in the student’s educational career, the report says.
One Wisconsin lawmaker objects to the report’s positive spin on early childhood education and contends that public schools should stop adding new 4-year-old kindergarten programs because they’re ineffective and a drain on state resources.
“As Wisconsin has added more 4-year-old kindergartens, our fourth-grade reading scores have plummeted,” Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) said in an interview Monday. “I think early education, like any preschool program, can have harmful psychological effects, and any academic benefit disappears by the time one is 9 or 10.”
That’s in stark contrast to the opinions of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said Monday he couldn’t support states cutting back on early childhood education. He made the remarks during a conference call with reporters about “The State of Preschool 2010,” an annual report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
“When budgets are cut, there are smart ways to cut and dumb ways to cut,” Duncan said, adding that reducing early childhood education funding fell into the latter category. “Our 3- and 4-year-olds don’t vote, they don’t have lobbyists and they aren’t in a union. Research shows this is the best investment we can make that will pay dividends later on.”
About 85% of Wisconsin school districts offer publicly funded 4-year-old kindergarten as an option for parents. Districts have steadily added programs in recent years. The second-largest district in the state, the Madison Metropolitan School District, is poised to offer 4K this coming fall.
District spokesman Ken Syke said the district has been trying for about a decade to adopt 4K because research shows those programs help students prepare for full-day kindergarten, especially students from low-income families. He said the expense of the program – school districts pay the majority of the costs to start the program, with the state fully funding the program in later years – has kept them from adding it sooner.
“It’s been a combination of the expense of it and trying to implement it correctly – working in partnership with local child care and education centers,” he said. “So that’s taken a bit of time. But the biggest factor has been the financial resource.”
According to the report:
• Slightly over half of Wisconsin’s 4-year-olds and 1.1% of its 3-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded prekindergarten program in 2009-’10. That’s sixth highest in the country in terms of access.
• From the 2001-’02 school year to last school year, Wisconsin saw 4K enrollment increase by 171.9%. From 2008-’09 to 2009-’10, 4K enrollment increased by 6%.
• State per-child spending in Wisconsin on prekindergarten programs increased by about $100 between 2008- ’09 and 2009-’10, bucking a trend nationwide in which spending on average declined per student in prekindergarten programs. All reported spending per child in Wisconsin prekindergarten programs totaled just under $5,000 in 2009-’10, putting Wisconsin 19th out of the 40 states that offer such programs.
• Wisconsin met five of 10 quality benchmarks in its 4K program. It met having early learning standards, requiring teachers to have degrees and licenses, requiring teacher training and having a process in place for monitoring sites. It failed to meet the following standards: assistant teachers should have a degree, class sizes should have 20 or fewer students, staff-child ratios should be 1 to 10 or better, and sites should offer at least one meal per day.
Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said that not all the benchmarks are equally important. For example, he said Wisconsin leaves issues such as maximum class size and student-to-teacher ratios up to local discretion, meaning programs offered in individual districts may meet that standard.
“What we worry about is that school districts with the least resources might make the worst decisions for the most disadvantaged kids,” Barnett said. “We don’t have any way of knowing. That’s really the key for states in the middle (on meeting quality benchmarks).”
Barnett also said that a number of states are proposing additional cuts to state funding for early education programs. He said in states like Wisconsin, it’s going to be important for lawmakers to heed Duncan’s call to preserve programs that help kids in their earliest years.
The report that Barnett’s group released includes references to nine research studies in 10 states that find short- and long-term benefits of state-sponsored prekindergarten programs on children’s learning and development.
Grothman says those effects die out by fourth grade.
He said that in Oklahoma, which has the highest percentage of children enrolled in state-funded 4-year-old kindergarten in the country, fourth-grade reading scores were higher than the national average before adopting universal prekindergarten, and lower than the national average after implementation of the program.
He questioned the motives behind the institute at Rutgers, which is a part of the Graduate School of Education. He said education schools support prekindergarten because it means more jobs will be available for their graduates.