Saturday, April 9, 2016

Well, USA…It’s a Start: PreK Funding

To read the PreK funding report, click here.
A funny thing happens when you work in a variety of socio-economic communities in a tri-state area.  The things you think you knew and felt about the landscape of early childhood education changes.  I am from a suburban, middle-to-upper-middle class area and spent most of my career in similar neighborhoods.  Then, I began this presenting/consulting side to my career and was fortunate to have been invited elsewhere. 

I have met many wonderful, selfless people who fight to adopt their foster children and to find the services that they need to thrive.  I have met children who have been in more court-ordered homes than the number of years they have lived.  I have been the lucky recipient of hugs from children who eat publicly funded lunch knowing there is no dinner when they leave their school.  I know that the hours many children spend in their preschool are the best hours of their lives – the most enriching, the most secure and the safest.

The United States is in its infancy of funding early childhood education and we have a lot to figure out.  Recently, I was in Washington, DC to advocate for funding for early childhood education.  I went to New Jersey US Senate and House of Representative offices to ask for money but also to explain the importance of a mixed delivery system.  In New Jersey, which I’m sure is a common experience among many newly launched grant-based systems, there are challenges with the funding.  Yes, the report linked to this blog article shows that New Jersey has the 2nd  highest state spending rate per preschool-aged resident.  While that is to be applauded, it comes with complications.  Public schools struggle to provide adequate space while private preschools worry about surviving.  Private schools that receive subsidies are barely scraping by on the low dollars paid per student.  Private schools that aren’t in the subsidy-piece-of-the-pie are watching students flock to the increasing number of public school pre-kindergarten programs.  Partnerships have been formed in some areas between private and public but it doesn’t seem to be widespread (yet anyway).   A new system for quality rating in the state is not taking off as quickly as officials had hoped or anticipated.  Early childhood centers are not ready for this disruptive innovation in the way they have worked since preschools began to open. 

The disruptive innovation of publicly funded early childhood learning will change the landscape of the preschool experience and, in some states such a New York, already has.  I am pointing out New York because I have done work there and have seen the impact of Universal Pre-K.  What a wonderful innovation for an early learner I met whose home is a shelter.  Her mother saves them a bed while her daughter is learning about the alphabet, numbers, socialization and wonders of learning.  Though I worry along with many colleagues about the survival of small, private preschool programs, I cannot help but understand the importance of this societal shift.  I have had the great good fortune to have learned about the larger world view from dipping a small part of my toe in it. I still believe, however, that there cannot be a total shift during which private programs are obliterated.

The early childhood years are unique.  They begin at birth and end at around 7-8 years old when children become more executive level thinkers.  They will spend the remainder of their lives different than when they were young children.  Much of our self-image is formed in the early childhood years – our confidence, self-help and decision making skills, critical thinking skills – are rooted then.  Every young child develops at a different rate and has an individual, egocentrically based viewpoint of the world.  No two early learners have the same needs.  No two – none of the early learners -  is like another.  Parents of young children need the opportunity to choose from a plethora of environments.  Somehow, some way, Americans and our government need to figure out how to ensure that all children receive a quality early childhood education in a wide open field of parental choice.  Surely, we can find a way to preserve a system that has an option for every type of learner from all different backgrounds and with all different needs.

The increases in public funding is a start but it is far from an end.

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Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved

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