Early Childhood

Early Education Again a Focus in States, But Will Action Follow?

By Lillian Mongeau — January 15, 2016 3 min read
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From the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday to an upcoming Kent County Board of Commissioners meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., early education is once again on the lips of legislators and policymakers in 2016.

Last year, there was far more talk about expanding early-childhood education than action toward it. The talk has started again.

President Barack Obama has made a habit, since 2013, of making preschool a part of the education policy section of this annual State of the Union address. His final such address, on Tuesday, was no exception, though early childhood was more of a passing mention than a focal point. Here’s what the president said (emphasis mine):

“Together, we’ve increased early-childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.”

For a full dissection of his education policy discussion, read Alyson Klein’s detailed story.

But Obama isn’t the only politician with preschool on his mind. Iowa’s House Minority Leader, Mark Smith, a Democrat, pledged on Monday to work harder to expand early education in that state. He said he’d push for that despite an education budget he sees as “inadequate,” according to The DesMoines Register. (Gov. Terry Bransted of Iowa, a Republican, has actually proposed a 2 percent increase to the education budget.)

Also on Monday, Democratic New Mexico lawmaker Rep. Javier Martinez came out with a strongly worded opinion piece in The Albuquerque Journal in response to an earlier editorial there positing that proponents of using land grant funds to expand early-childhood education in the state were unprepared to actually launch an expansion.

“In short, we recommend significant expansion of home-visitation programs throughout New Mexico,” Martinez writes. “We recommend expansion of quality child care and prekindergarten services for all children. Furthermore, through increased funding, we can grow and improve the quality of early-education centers, and provide higher pay for early-education professionals.”

The debate about whether or not to use land grant money to expand preschool in New Mexico has been going on for several years now.

In California, the new speaker of the state Assembly, Anthony Rendon, reiterated his commitment to early-childhood education. Rendon, a Democrat, told reporters early education was “very important to me,” according to The Sacramento Bee. Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, has generally been hesitant to increase funding for early-childhood education. That trend continued with his 2016 proposed budget, according to EdSource Today.

Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, made early reading a key part of his State of the State address on Monday, according to The Idaho Statesman. Nebraska state Sen. Heath Mello, a Democrat, introduced a bill on Monday that would use a series of state tax credits to expand early education, according to the AP. And an advocacy group in Kent County, Mich., is set to renew its request to the Board of Commissioners for a new property tax to fund expanded early education, according to M Live.

Some states, like New Mexico, have had ongoing debates that show little sign of reaching resolution any time soon. Other states, like California, have had strong legislative movements towards change vetoed by strong governors. And there are other variations: Montana’s governor has pushed for expansion, while the state legislature has taken no action on the matter.

Whatever the circumstances, the pace of public preschools and other early-ed services has been incredibly slow. We’ll see if 2016 is any different.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.