Support is growing in the Legislature for Gov. Janet Napolitano’s plan to phase in all-day kindergarten, beginning with schools in the poorest communities.
The 7-1 vote by the Senate Education Committee on Monday to budget $25 million for the first phase is good news for all who have been urging lawmakers to close Arizona’s gap in early-childhood education.
But there must be no resting on laurels until the Legislature gives the proposal final approval. Then, work must begin on the second phase. Meanwhile, efforts must continue to get more young children into quality preschool programs.
Yes, all of this is expensive. All-day kindergarten will cost $170 million a year when it’s completely phased in, plus an estimated $100 million for more classrooms to accommodate the youngsters. Quality preschool isn’t cheap either.
But we strongly disagree with Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert and the lone dissenting vote in Monday’s vote, that "it’s going to be too expensive."
Study after exhaustive study shows conclusively that children who are enrolled in quality preschool programs and move on to quality all-day kindergarten outperform their peers in grade school and high school who did not attend such early childhood programs.
Indeed, youngsters who start first grade short on the social and academic skills typically acquired in good early childhood programs tend to have more behavior and academic problems that persist throughout their school careers and can lead to dropping out, getting into more serious trouble, becoming unwed parents and requiring public assistance.
Now that’s expensive.
Early childhood education doesn’t immunize every youngster against academic or social problems, and it’s not the duty of the state to guarantee success for every individual. But quality education is a sturdy, proven ladder to success that needs and deserves public support. In Arizona’s case, the challenge is to strengthen the bottom-most rungs of that ladder so that every child, regardless of circumstances, can make it onto that ladder to success at an early age.
That doesn’t mean taxpayers should pick up the entire tab, or that public schools should deliver all the programs. Private participation is vital, both in funding and offering programs, and the partnership approach outlined by Gov. Napolitano last year must be pursued.
The Legislature can do its part this year by approving the $25 million first phase for all-day kindergarten.