I am opposed to both HF46 and SF6, the Universal Preschool bills. Many people hear about Universal Pre-K and two words jump out at them: FREE and EDUCATION. While this sounds great on the front end, as taxpayers please think of the following:
* This is a one-time lump sum of money. There is not money earmarked long term. Therefore all of the costs associated with running mandated 4-year-old Pre-K will fall back on our school districts/TAXPAYERS.
* Our schools statewide have space at a premium. In order to accommodate the number of classrooms necessary for all of the states 4-year-olds, it will ultimately require many districts to look at expansion of the school or raising the number of children in each of the older classrooms. This would create a disadvantaged learning environment, with very large class sizes for our elementary school children and/or additional costs to our school districts and again: TAXPAYERS.
* The State of Minnesota requires a child:teacher ratio of 1:10 with a max of 20 children per classroom. When thinking about my statement previously related to the need for expansion, please note that in Jordan we currently have, I believe, 6 kindergarten classrooms. FYI: based on the number of children in our kindergarten classrooms, we would need at a minimum SIX new classrooms, TWELVE new teachers, an increase also in funding maintenance/custodial, cafeteria and ancillary programming staff to house 4-year-old preschool. If you do not think that this will take away from funding the regular elementary school teachers/activities, then I would like for you to explain where this funding is going to come from. My thought is that again it will have to be the TAXPAYERS.
* Also, what about before and after school care, early release days, non-school days, extended breaks and summer vacation? Most child care programs will not have spots to assume these children into their programs during those times, meaning the school districts will have to add additional staffing here as well.
The biggest argument in favor of universal Pre-K is that there is a gap in preparedness for children entering kindergarten. Please note that there are a significant number of children in the state of Minnesota that are already in some form of an early education program: Center or Family child care, ECFE programs, school based preschools, Head Start or home with their parents. Please note that what this program is doing is taking the responsibility off families to help their children be ready to enter school! 'Disadvantaged' DOES NOT equal UNABLE! Parents are completely able to work with their children on basic learning concepts: Letters, Numbers, Shapes, Colors, Opposites and basic self-help skills. Poor people (and I grew up poor!) have the same capability to raise amazing children, AND DO!
If money is to be spent, then how about funding parent/child programs that help parents who may feel challenged or without resources know how to get their children ready for school simply through play, reading, singing and spending time speaking to and interacting with their children. I have not met an adult yet that does not know these basic learning concepts and would not be perfectly capable of sharing these skills with their children. And really...I think it is offensive to assume that poor equates to uneducated/unable/unwilling to be the best parent they are able to be.
That said, for parents who may be struggling (in any neighborhood or tax bracket) again let us look to fund parent resource programs to assist them, rather than taking the choice away from families and forcing our youngest citizens into institutionalized learning environments.
Everything we know about quality early childhood, best practices tell us to acknowledge that children are individuals who learn and develop differently and at their own pace. Years of research had been dedicated to the importance of programs that are both age and developmentally appropriate. Parents already are able to choose what type of early learning care environment they want for their children, and are lucky to have a number of high quality family/center child care and school/center/church preschool options here in Jordan!
The truth is that children need to be allowed to BE CHILDREN, to play, to explore, and to learn in natural, loving settings! The studies and data are clear on the negative or non-impact of children being forced full day preschool at this age.
Think back to when you were a child...Are your favorite memories about preschool? Or are your memories about playing in the rain and mud, exploring your yard, playing make believe, building creations? PLAY BASED, NATURAL LEARNING IS ESSENTIAL FOR A QUALITY EARLY CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE FOR CHILDREN!
Shame on you Governor Dayton for playing politics with our children!
Carrie Speikers is a Jordan resident and the proprietor of Carrie's Little Gems Child Care. She is a licensed family child care provider, mentor and trainer for other providers and has 24 years of experience working in center and home based child care.