Posted by on May 25th 2012
Arkansas has made access to quality early childhood education a priority over the last two decades, but high-quality programs for low-income families are either at full capacity or their funding has been stagnant for years. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) released a report today detailing the state of access to pre-K programs in Arkansas and calling for their expansion.
"Pre-K: Access to Success in Arkansas" makes the case that investments in Arkansas pre-k programs are helping our students perform better once they reach kindergarten, and beyond. Arkansas created the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program in 1991. The data shows that students who participate in ABC programs score higher in language at the end of kindergarten, and higher in language and math at the end of first grade, than students who do not participate in pre-k programs.
Research continues to confirm the importance of high-quality early childhood education. According to a recent study, access to quality pre-k in Arkansas has done more to help close the gap between white and minority children and between middle-class and low-income students than any other educational measure.
Paul Kelly, senior policy analyst at AACF, says Arkansas does a good job at covering three and four year-olds, but still has a lot of work to do when it comes to younger children.
"Almost 60 percent of Arkansas children from birth to age three live below 200 percent of the poverty level," Kelly says. "Only a little over two percent of those kids are enrolled in some form of pre-K. That's a problem, because that's an incredibly important time in a child's early development. The state needs to do more to make sure those kids have access to quality pre-k programs."
AACF Executive Director Rich Huddleston says pre-k programs have proven to be a very smart investment for the state.
"The return on investment from early childhood development is extraordinary," he says. "The result is higher high school graduation rates, which means more educated workers and less crime. It's also really important for at-risk and low-income children. We need to make sure those kids, and all our kids, have an equal opportunity to learn. And broadening pre-k participation will do that."
Huddleston says participation in pre-k programs not only prepares students for success in kindergarten but throughout their academic career.
"Studies have shown that the graduation rate for students who went to pre-school can be as high as 29 percent higher than kids who did not," Huddleston says. "We also want to make sure that kids in Arkansas can read at grade-level by the end of the third grade and getting more kids into pre-k programs will help us reach that goal."
Protecting and expanding access to quality pre-k, especially for our youngest, most at-risk children, needs to be one of Arkansas's top priorities in the allocation of any new state dollars for education in the years ahead. Local school districts should make it a top priority when deciding how to spend the state poverty funds they receive for education and their federal Title 1 funds.
Read Paul Kelly's report on pre-k access, and what we can do to expand it, here.
Read the Executive Summary here.