What is it about four-year-olds that politicians finds so irresistible? Last week Governor Easley proposed taking lottery money slated for school construction and using it for his pet preschool program, More-at-Four. I think it has to do with the fact that four-year-olds make politicians look good. Besides being cute and providing good photo opportunities for politicians, four-year-olds can’t fail. There are no standardized performance tests that four-year-olds need to pass. There’s no measure of preschool graduation rates. No under-performance worries whatsoever to mar the Governor’s record since the results of this program will take years to manifest.
Don’t get me wrong, preschool programs and early interventions are important, but Enough-at-Four already. What about the older kids who are also at risk and need assistance? What about the 19-year-olds who haven’t finished high-school in four years, who are at risk of dropping out of school? New figures show that more than 3 out of every 10 high school student in North Carolina don’t complete high school in four years; many of these students drop out before earning a diploma. Unlike four-year-olds, these kids don’t have time on their side.
Sure pimply faced teenagers don’t offer the same photo opportunities as preschoolers but they need our help just as much, if not more. Political leaders need to put their reputations on the line with more programs for at-risk teens, programs that keep kids in school and train them for jobs that pay a living wage.
Governor Easley has initiated the Learn and Earn high school reform initiative with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This program, which allows high school students to obtain both a high school degree and an associate’s degree, is a step in the right direction but it needs to be expanded statewide. Currently, there are 33 high schools in the program and 20 more planned. Let’s hope that Governor Easley’s affection for teenagers grows to equal his love for preschoolers.