Senate education budget to cut up to 2000 pre-K slots

In a Senate Appropriations education sub-committee budget noteworthy for its protection of the state university system, up to 2000 slots in the nationally-lauded pre-kindergarten initiative, More at Four, would be cut following a funding reduction of $10 million or 6% in annual money.

While there are hopes that some of the cut would be absorbed in administrative savings, especially among the private and community sector providers that in any one year serve up to half of the children in More at Four, there is no question that unlike the cut of $5 million last year, this one would affect the number of children that can be served.

In order to be effective over the long term, pre-K classrooms must be of high quality. Quality is the key to success – to bringing children from low-income households and/or those at risk of later academic failure to a point where they are ready for K-12. That means qualified teachers, low class sizes, adequate resources.

Cutting the More at Four budget means that after administrative cuts have reached the bone, access to pre-kindergarten for more young children in need is denied. More at Four already has waiting lists approaching 2000 young children from low-income households. Add up to another 2000 to that list if the Senate gets its way.

Comparing the pre-K and K-12 budget

The Senate budget is unnecessarily harsh on pre-kindergarten compared to the reasonableness of its approach to K-12. The Senate budget cuts the K-12 budget less than the Governor (2.9% versus 4.3%) and avoids the Governor’s large flexibility cut that has generated estimates in some quarters of some 1600 more teachers losing their jobs. This is laudable.

But the Senate budget does not adequately recognize that education opportunity begins in pre-school or the importance of that opportunity. As is now well established, investing in young children via quality pre-K, especially those from low-income households, pays enormous dividends later. They earn more, they are less likely to fall onto welfare, to be arrested, to spend time in jail. All this is avoided state cost. Cutting budgets of early child education and services is false economy.

The cuts are rougher on pre-K when you consider that the Office of Early Learning will soon evaluate the outcomes of More at Four in a way unprecedented in this state. Included in the draft Senate budget provisions is a section that directs the Office of Early Learning in DPI to contract annual evaluations of More at Four attendees as they go through school to ninth grade and compare their performance with that of non-More at Four attendees. This will be a vital data collection and analysis effort that has the potential to inform the improvement of not just pre-K, but early elementary schooling as well.

Cuts to early childhood beyond More at Four

The Senate budget cuts to early childhood go beyond More at Four. In a shuffle of federal dollars, $16 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will be re-routed from the Health and Human Services budget to More at Four. It is not yet clear whether the $16 million in state dollars taken from More at Four in the switch will appear in the final Health and Human Services budget. The suspicion is that it will not, effectively leading to a cut of $16 million for our neediest families. It goes without saying that these are the people we should be protecting first. The recession has hit them the hardest.

Smart Start funding is cut by $5.8 million or 3% annually and also looks to lose another $5 million annually in funding for their local health initiatives for young and needy children. The expectation is that the remaining health initiatives money – some $3 million annually – will be used to leverage federal dollars to minimize health care initiative cuts.

It is vital that House budget writers remember that any cuts this year are cuts heaped on cuts and hence adopt a more balanced approach that fully appreciates the importance that investment in young children has for the state’s future.

Late amendment:

The cuts of early childhood services are now more grave than before. In the revised HHS budget, Smart Start gets cut by $10 million annually (plus the $5 million in cuts for the Health Initiatives), while federal dollars from the TANF program are to replace $24 million in child care subsidy.

The Senate budget appears to be using TANF dollars, much needed in these hard ecionomic times to assist our neediest families, to supplant state dollars in critical services.

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  3. frustrated with the system

    June 14, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Pre-K in the public school setting is just glorified daycare. If the program is cut in school’s these kids will just receive free daycare at a private center or Head Start. Many of these parent’s don’t use the opportunity to attend school or for employment. They run the streets and send the kids on buses to the homes of relatives. More at Four needs a complete over haul and it starts with holding parents, not the school system, accountable for their children!!

  4. Steve

    June 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    To those who bother to find out, pre-K is clearly not glorified daycare. That’s not me saying that but Nobel Prize winning economists.

    And I’m not sure what planet you came from, but how many free slots are there in private day-care? Or unused slots in HeadStart?

    Prejudice and ignorance means @frustrated-with-the-system can’t even understand the system. No wonder the frustration – its like an 18-month old who can’t tell her mommy what she wants.

  5. Katie

    May 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Dear Frustrated with the system,
    I take offence in the way you have presented your biased argument. I am a military wife and as so this program greatly benefits us. My husband works long hours and is frequently deployed and I work full time as well. This program would greatly benefit my child who otherwise would be stuck in a daycare setting that would hinder her from fully utilizing her learning abilities the best capacity! I nor, anyone else that I know of, do not run the streets or send our children home with relatives. In fact, we have no relatives around us. I do not know of free slots in private daycare as I have never heard of such absurdity and if they were- how many would be available? What quality would they be for the under privileged? The whole reason this program is here is to give under priveleged children a head start, sending them to a daycare that is subpar would only hinder them. Perhaps the reason you don’t understand the system is that you did not get the proper educational head start you needed!

  6. just an opintion

    May 21, 2011 at 7:10 am

    As an employee of a school systen with a More At Four program….unfortunately in the County I work in; it is free daycare for the poor. Admission requirements are primarily based on income and developmental needs. Plus, whether or not the child has ever been served in a child care setting. I applied for my child a few years ago and was told by an Administrator, “Why bother, you know she’s not going to get in because you are married and work.” I can honestly say that 90% of our parents fall into the category of “don’t work and don’t want to work” and “send the kids to grandma’s everyday”. It is an unfortuante reality of how the system is funded. The parents come into the school with better cell phones, nails, hair, and clothing than I do as a full time working individual. I have even been behind many of our parents in the grocery store line and get frustrated by their $300 grocery carts that are full of steaks and name brand items all paid for with their food stamp card. Meanwhile, I am struggling with my calculator to keep my grocery bill in tact so I can afford to write a check for my child’s lunch account that week. As far as it reducing the drop out rate and all that jive. In my County, there is not an argument to defend that statement. More At Four teachers are still limited on what they can teach the children based on the guidelines and structure of the program. Many of those students still go to Kindergarten not knowing their alphabet, colors, or how to read. They can tell you where the Cafeteria and Principals office is though. I may have ranted, but it is a frustration that I see everyday!

  7. just an opinion

    May 21, 2011 at 7:11 am

    I started out so frustrated that I even spelled opinion wrong in the Name field!!