Early childhood education emphasized during K-12 hearings

Education leaders told legislators that their early childhood learning programs improve student outcomes and that they could do even more if provided additional funding. 

Advocates provided information to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee during two days of hearings that concluded Wednesday. 

The committee, along with the Senate Select Education Committee on School Finance, will soon begin work on a new school funding bill in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling. The court in that ruling said last year’s funding law does not adequately address Kansas student needs, especially for the 25 percent of Kansas children who consistently do not meet performance benchmarks. Early learning advocates say their programs help close school readiness and achievement gaps. 

Superintendents from Coffeyville USD 445, Seaman USD 345 and Barton County USD 431 (Hoisington) on Wednesday told the committee quality early childhood programs like universal preschool have proven to improve K-12 outcomes, better identify student needs, decrease expensive special education referrals and reduce lifetime arrest rates. 

The superintendents told the committee, however, that their districts depend largely on donations and grants to support their early learning initiatives. They said the state could better serve its pre-K population by increasing dedicated funding for quality early childhood programs.  

Coffeyville’s Craig Correll, Seaman’s Steve Noble and Hoisington’s Bill Lowry said while they are proud of the universal preschool services they provide to prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten success, they could do even more and better work with additional dependable funding. Enhancements could include increases in the number of students served; increasing the capacity of care settings, including to full-day programs; universal preschool transportation; increases in teacher pay to improve recruitment and retention; replacement of general fund dollars currently used to support early learning; increased and improved parent training and support; and the hiring of additional counselors and social workers. 

“It’s time we focused on developing a sustainable and equitable funding structure for early care and education,” Noble said. “We long ago decided an educated public was an outcome worth the shared expense of providing public schools. Today, research points to preschool as a key public investment for the future.” 

The committee’s Tuesday meeting was devoted to an overview of the work of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, which supports early childhood education in Kansas with revenue from the Children’s Initiative Fund. 

Children’s Cabinet member LeEtta Felter, who also serves on the Olathe USD 233 Board of Education, told the committee that investments in early education can save the state money because the children served are more likely to graduate on time and increase their earning potential. “Resources should be targeted to students early on so that they have a better chance of success when they enter the K-12 system.” 

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