The Senate Education Committee is ready to pass a bill expanding the number of Pre-Kindergarten programs in local schools across the state.
The measure would allow – but not require – any school district to expand early education to four and five year old children – as long as it is optional and only half-time. It follows a two-year pilot program in six school districts that included some three hundred children. Those pupils were favorably rated on three separate national standards.
One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Anchorage Democrat Hollis French said those tests showed the early education was putting children who were in the programs by as much as two years ahead of their expected levels.
“Every piece of data that I’ve seen shows this works. The only thing that is left out there are some anecdotes about putting kids in school too early or socializing them too early. You hear lots of anecdotes about this or that reason. But the proof is here that this is what we need to do,” French said.
French also pointed to studies presented at the Crime Summit held at the capitol earlier this year. At that series of hearings, he says the Washington Institute for Public Policy – and Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research – showed the positive effects of early education.
“Children as they grow up they are much more likely to complete high school – that makes sense – they are more likely to have higher paying jobs – that makes sense, they’re going to graduate from high school – and much less likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Early childhood programs are shown to save the state far more money than they cost as children move through school and into adult life,” French said.
At the summit, research found that the state would save six dollars for every dollar spent on early education – and that the crime rate could be reduced by sixteen percent.
The Department of Education asked for time to amend its statewide cost projection for the program – expected to come in at about $41 million. And to determine if adding the programs will have any effect on the settlements of rural school litigation earlier this year.
The bill will come up again Wednesday where it is expected to pass.