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Pre-K "Day of Action" Comes to Arkansas

PHOTO: Arkansas groups are part of a national "Day of Action" to raise awareness about the importance of preschool, particularly for lower-income three- and four-year-olds. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Arkansas groups are part of a national "Day of Action" to raise awareness about the importance of preschool, particularly for lower-income three- and four-year-olds. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
June 5, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Getting children off to a good start in school and life is the goal of today's "Early Learning Day of Action," in Arkansas and across the nation.

President Obama says it's going to take more funding to get more toddlers into high-quality preschool programs, and he's suggesting a higher federal tobacco tax to get the money. People who agree with the plan are launching an intensive push this week to let Congress know.

Jerri Derlikowski, director of educational policy for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said early learning hasn't had a funding increase since 2008 in Arkansas, and she thinks this approach is worth a try.

"I think it will be difficult for our federal officials to support any kind of tax increase," she said. "That said, we're hopeful. To me, it seems like a no-brainer - because a tobacco tax is something that you can choose, whether you want to pay that or not."

The bill, the Early Care and Education Initiative, would provide $75 billion over the next 10 years to expand pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds, fueled by the theory that better performance in school over the long run is a smart investment in any child's future.

Two recent studies have been done on Arkansas pre-K, one on the state-funded "Better Chance" program and one on children from lower-income families. Derlikowski said both pointed to the importance of early learning, particularly for children whose families can't afford a lot of extras and activities.

"If they start behind, it's really difficult for them to catch up," she said. "So, if they've been in a good pre-K program and they come to school at the same level as their peers, it's just a tremendous benefit."

Ideally, Derlikowski said, children would be enrolled in pre-K at age 3, but with limited funds, Arkansas' push has been to give priority to 4-year-olds. Now, about 80 percent of eligible 4-year-olds in the state are enrolled in an early learning program. Less than half of eligible 3-year-olds are enrolled.

The studies in this report are by the National Institute for Early Education Research at aradvocates.org and the Arkansas Research Center at arc.arkansas.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR