Building the Bridge: From Early Childhood to K-12 Education

June 29, 2017

All Kansas kids deserve the best possible start in life. As legislators worked together to develop a new school finance formula this session and contemplated the level of funding needed to adequately meet the needs of all students, especially the most at-risk kids across the state, another important conversation emergedthe importance of investing in research-based early childhood programs and support services.  

We know our state’s early childhood system matters if we want young Kansas kids to succeed later in school and in life. Programs funded by the Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF), for instance, catch developmental delays, provide high-quality child care, diagnose autism early, and provide access to speech and language services – strong examples of a long list of crucial interventions that help close learning gaps and prepare Kansas kids for kindergarten.

This year, legislators on the education budget committees examined the return on investment – primarily in K-12 education – that is achieved through investments in high-quality early childhood programs. They were particularly interested in how these investments support children living in poverty, children who are English language learners, and children who have other barriers to overcome.

In the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, legislators compiled research to support increased funding for 4-year-old at-risk programs, as well as the implementation of all-day kindergarten.

The research, including several studies from The National Institute for Early Education Research and a more recent report from Duke University, shows that students attending pre-K perform better on math and literacy tests, that those results persist, and that the gains are even greater for economically disadvantaged children and English language learners.1 This research will be used as “evidence” as the Kansas Supreme Court considers the adequacy of education funding. More importantly, it will be used to build the case that resources should be targeted to students early on so that they have a better chance of success when they enter the K-12 system. Investing early may reduce the number of students defined as “at-risk” in K-12 and may also increase high school graduation rates.

As seen in the recent release of the 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book, it is clear that more robust  investments in public education are needed to build stronger students and a stronger state. Therefore, it is crucial that lawmakers continue to use words like “invest” and “evidence-based” to talk about education and, more specifically, early childhood. These words are much more accurate and forward-thinking than words like “cost” and “expense.”

Legislators focusing more on children and how the state can best support their social, emotional, and intellectual development is promising. Building bridges between early childhood and K-12 education is how we build a better, brighter future and achieve remarkable outcomes for Kansas kids.

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