Governors Increasingly Take Lead on Early Learning Initiatives

With the most recent election cycle now firmly in the rearview mirror -- and with new governors and state legislatures largely back in session -- one topic increasingly heading many legislative agendas: Early childhood learning.

With the most recent election cycle now firmly in the rearview mirror — and with new governors and state legislatures largely back in session — one topic that increasing is at the top of many legislative agendas: Early childhood learning.

A month ago, when he was still Governor-elect, now CA Gov. Gavin Newsom prepared to propose some $1.8 billion in funding for early education programs.

The Los Angeles Times reported: “Newsom’s plan, which he hinted at in a Fresno event last month, will be a key element in the state budget proposal he will submit to the Legislature shortly after taking office Monday, a source close to the governor-elect’s transition team said.”

‘Readiness Gap’

The report continued: “The spending would boost programs designed to ensure children enter kindergarten prepared to learn, closing what some researchers have called the ‘readiness gap’ that exists based on a family’s income. It would also phase in an expansion of prekindergarten and offer money to help school districts that don’t have facilities for full-day kindergarten.”

Now Education Week notes that Newsom is far from alone among governors seeking to increase early learning funding. Among the initiatives:

  • Colorado: “Newly elected Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, used his State of the State address to advocate for more than $200 million that would allow all of Colorado’s school districts to offer full-day kindergarten.”
  • Ohio: “Mike DeWine, the new Republican governor of Ohio, created a state office for children’s initiatives immediately after he was sworn in on Jan. 14. During his campaign, DeWine said he would expand access to home-visiting programs for pregnant women and young children, as well as create more slots for children to attend high-quality state-funded preschool.”
  • New Mexico: “Early-childhood advocates have long supported taking some money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for preschool, and they have a supporter in Michelle Lujan Grisham, the new Democratic governor. Lujan Grisham, in her address to state lawmakers, said she supports taking ‘a responsible pinch of additional money from our Permanent School Fund, ensuring we can deliver an education system that works for every child and every family in this state.’”

Other states have already been active. For example, in Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced her “Pre-School for Every Four-Year-Old in Rhode Island” program. Highlights include:

  • “Guarantee access to every four-year-old. Currently about 1,000 4-year-olds in Rhode Island participate in the state’s full-day Pre-K program, and an additional 1,200 are enrolled in Head Start. By adding about 6,000 additional seats, every four-year-old in the state will have access to the program.”
  • “Rapidly expand seats. Rhode Island will add about 70 classrooms each year so that every four-year-old who wants a seat in Pre-K has one. New classrooms would be opened in early learning and child care centers, public schools, and Head Start locations and existing classrooms that are part-time or half-day will be converted to full- day, high-quality Pre-K classrooms.”
  • “Ensure quality. Rhode Island is already a national leader in Pre-K quality. Every four-year-old in Rhode Island deserves the opportunity to participate in our nationally recognized program. Teacher quality, student-to- teacher ratios, learning time, and program quality will all be managed to ensure Rhode Island remains a national leader.”

The gubernatorial action comes amidst the new evaluation of pre-K programs in 40 cities across the country released by The CityHealth organization and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University (see our post here).

The report titled “Pre-K in American Cities: Quality and Access Grow, but Cities are Missing Opportunities to Create Lasting Benefits for their Youngest Learners” finds that while cities have been expanding the availability of publicly-funded pre-K to young learners, many of them are failing to meet the benchmarks of high-quality pre-K that should be met for these investments to bear fruit.

For another view of one city’s success, the New York Times highlights the Jacksonville (FL) Head Start program: “Cleaner Classrooms and Rising Scores: With Tighter Oversight, Head Start Shows Gains.”


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