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National report echoes concerns of local leaders on preschool education in Missouri

May 09, 2011|by Ashley Reynolds, KY3 News | areynolds@ky3.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Educators around Missouri are concerned about a new snapshot of early childhood education across the state.  A private group, National Institute for Early Education Research, ranks Missouri near the bottom among the states when it comes to access for 4-year-old children and funding of pre-school programs.

In Springfield, city leaders, including the mayor, say they are not proud.  A goal of a task force appointed by Mayor Jim O’Neal is to work with schools to develop more places for toddlers to learn. 

Just last week, early education programs lost more funding -- more than $3 million – in the state budget that starts July 1.  Educators say something needs to be done now.

Nearly 200 kids are in early education programs in the Nixa School District.

“We are able to get the preschoolers ready for kindergarten to make sure they are ready for all the academics when they get to kindergarten,” said Nixa teacher Jennie Newberry.

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Nixa is ranked the second best program in the state.

“We have had parents that have just had their baby and they have called and asked to be put on the waiting list,” said Newberry.

Still, educators are worried about expected state cuts and how it will trickle down to kids.

“The last place I would recommend anyone to cut is preschool education.  It's the last place a cut should be made,” said Nixa School District Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith.

With the state not making the grade when it comes to providing for early education, superintendents say, in turn, they cannot reach goals.

“We cannot provide quality education and meet the expectation that the public has placed on us without the funding to support that aspiration,” said Kleinsmith.

When it comes to Springfield, city leaders have a vision that all children should be able to have the opportunity to get an early start.

“The need is great and the funding is inadequate.  We need to develop a since of priority,” said O’Neal.

In the city's strategic planning, early education is listed as the top priority.

On the positive side, preschool programs in Missouri met nine out of ten benchmarks on quality of program, covering areas like teacher training and staff-to-student ratio.

In this same survey, Arkansas scored ninth out of 40 states on access for 4-year olds, and eighth out of 40 in funding.

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In November 2005, a proposed Greene County ¼-percent sales tax increase that would have funded increased law enforcement efforts and early childhood education programs failed 58 percent to 42 percent.   The tax would have funded more correctional officers at the Greene County jail, as well as other new employees in the sheriff’s department and prosecuting attorney’s office and a regional crime lab.  The biggest share, however, would have funded crime prevention efforts by emphasizing early childhood education programs for infants and children younger than 5.  Half of the new tax (1/8 percent) for crime prevention efforts would have ended in five years unless voters reauthorized it.

The proposed sales tax would have paid for all 50 elementary schools in the county to hire a resource specialist who could help low-income families get the services they need, as well as pay for the creation of a Resource Center.  The idea was that prevention of problems – making better educated children who stay in school because they’re more successful – would have saved money in the longer run for law enforcement.

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Report in 2007 by the Springfield Mayor’s Commission on Children about Readiness for Kindergarten

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