Friday, June 23, 2006
Editorial: Setting the stage for universal preschool
Gov. Kaine is moving methodically to make the case for an extremely valuable program.
From the RoundTable blog
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Questions abound about Gov. Tim Kaine's initiative to make preschool available to every 4-year-old in Virginia.
Luckily, there is time to answer those questions and an apparent will by Kaine to get the answers right.
In January, the governor established the Start Strong Council, a 17-member commission of legislators, educators, private child care providers, community business leaders and parents.
With the state budget essentially resolved -- finally -- Kaine met with the council Wednesday to challenge its members to develop proposals for a universal preschool model by October.
Kaine wants some initial measures included in the mid-term budget, but he realizes the bulk of the program will have to wait for the 2008 biennial budget.
That's not a bad thing, giving the governor and the council plenty of time to work out some answers to the many legitimate questions about how universal preschool should work in Virginia.
It also gives the governor time to build the political momentum to sell what will undoubtedly be an expensive proposal to an unenthusiastic General Assembly.
The questions are serious: How much will the program cost? Where will the money come from? Will tax money be used to fund private preschools? Which children will the program attempt to reach first?
Answering those questions is vital. The importance of early childhood education in the development of students cannot be overstated.
Children who come to elementary school ready to learn do better throughout their academic careers. They're far less likely to be disciplinary problems and far more likely to graduate.
The state will eventually save much of the estimated $300 million annual cost of Kaine's program with reduced need for special education programs and other long-term payoffs, including more prosperous and productive citizens.
Kaine still faces what will doubtless be a bloody battle over transportation. That fight was forced on him by the necessity of a deteriorating system.
The fight for universal preschool is one he's chosen. May he wage it well.