Friday, June 29, 2007

Early education gains momentum in states

This fall, states will see the results of the big bucks they are promising to plug into early education programs.

Among several states expanding access to preschool classes, Washington state will have an extra 2,250 pre-kindergarten spaces, Oregon will serve another 3,200 youngsters, and Tennessee will have up to 5,000 more openings. Meanwhile, kindergartners in seven states could see their school hours double as the drive for all-day kindergarten gains momentum.

It’s all part of a push to get more kids learning at a young age when, research has shown, their brains still are developing and they’re most likely to soak in information. Advocates also say that students who have attended preschool are less likely to commit crimes later and more likely to attend college, get jobs and pay taxes.

So far this year legislatures in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington are among those that answered the call of a record 29 governors who sought to boost funding for their state pre-K programs. Two years ago, only 11 governors asked for such increases.

Currently, 39 states have a state-funded preschool program, although the majority of them only cover low-income kids. Only three states — Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma — offer voluntary preschool to all 4-year-olds. Illinois last year passed a law to create the country’s first universal program for 3-year-olds, as well as 4-year-olds, but the program is being phased in...

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