The term “pre-K” refers to early education targeted at four-year-olds. Some programs also serve three-year-olds.
Pre-K differs from ordinary daycare in that it focuses on academic readiness.
The National Institute for Early Education Research has established ten criteria for evaluating pre-K programs. The Pre-K program in Arkansas meets nine of them.
Georgia was the first state to establish universal pre-K in 1995 for all children whose parents wanted them to receive such services.
Studies dating back to the 1960s provide evidence that pre-K education has significant social benefits, including fewer special education placements, higher graduation rates, and higher earnings and reduced criminal behavior in later life.
Ideally, pre-K would be available to all children, but only three statesâ€”Georgia, Florida, and Oklahomaâ€”have committed to universal pre-K for their four-year-olds.
Arkansas has been a leader in pre-K for at-risk children, but for the past eight years, funding for the program has remained static, reducing the number of children receiving services. A proposal for adding $10,000 to the program was presented to the Arkansas legislature in 2016, but they rejected it in a vote of 22 to 13.
Legislators who vote against pre-K funding and expansion don’t seem to realize that they would save taxpayers money in the long run by improving intellectual opportunities for our youngest citizens.
Ideally, all new parents would be especially attentive to their new baby’s verbal experiences, talking to them, playing with speech sounds, and reading to them.
Realistically, not all new parents provide rich verbal experiences for their infants. As early as 18 months, low-income children begin to fall behind in vocabulary development.
Affluent but emotionally distant parents may also fail to provide adequate verbal stimulation during the early years.
The sad fact is that as many as 50% of children entering public school at the age of five or six are already two or more years behind their peers.
These are the children who desperately need pre-K programs.