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Expand state support for early childhood education

The Crossville Chronicle • Feb 27, 2020 at 12:15 AM

Many working mothers bristled at comments from state. Sen. Janice Bowling last week when she indicated she did not support public funds for early childhood education.

Bowling, speaking in a legislative committee meeting, said, “My generation was encouraged to forgo a career and stay home until kids were school aged. If a family decides they want a two-income family, then that certainly is there, but then are taxpayers obligated to assist in that?”

Most mothers would love the opportunity to stay home with their children until they enter kindergarten, or even longer.

But economic realities make it difficult for a two-income family to miss that extra income for years. And it’s simply impossible for a single parent to support a child without working.

Early childhood education also helps many young students gain a strong foundation in some academic basics before they start kindergarten. State standards for pre-K include helping children learn to persist in solving a problem or question, or to spark imagination and learning through productive play. They’re taught pre-literacy skills that help them learn to read. They’re getting vital numeracy skills that help them take those first steps in mathematics.

They’re taught how to take part in a classroom environment, with social interaction with their peers. And they’re taught that it’s important to go to school regularly.

Tennessee’s voluntary pre-K program launched in 2005, focusing on at-risk children from economically disadvantaged homes, though services can be extended to children with special needs.

Cumberland County’s 12 pre-K classrooms serve 224 students.

Cumberland County data follows a long list of studies that support the value of early childhood education, with increased academic success for students later in life. Rebecca Farley, academic supervisor for pre-K through eighth grade in Cumberland County, said pre-K students continue to score higher on literacy and math tests, have better attendance and fewer behavioral issues than students who did not attend pre-K.

The program is not without challenges. Each classroom can only serve 20 students, and the school system can’t provide transportation. So families must figure out how to have someone drop off and pick up their child every day — something that can be incredibly difficult for families.

We urge our lawmakers to look for ways to expand access to early childhood education to help those families who want and need that service. This could be through increasing how much the state invests in the school system’s voluntary pre-K programs — which have been funded at the same amount since the program began in 2005. It could also include expanding eligibility for child-care assistance for younger children.

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