Educators inform the public about quality preschool

Educators inform the public about quality preschool
Director Diane Roush (Source: KAIT)
Director Diane Roush (Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Educators held a press conference Tuesday to teach the community about the need for preschool.

Community leaders filed into the Jonesboro Pre-K Center Tuesday morning to listen to speakers talk about the importance of a high quality pre-K education.

But the press conference was more than educational.

Representatives appealed to audience members to get behind and support pre-K education before it dwindles away.

"Pre-K is not part of the K through 12 funding," Director of the Jonesboro Pre-K Center Diane Roush said. "So, we're funding on our own. We could not live without all of our grants. For example, the High Quality Grant is for two years. After that, they'll have to apply again for the federal money. If they do not get that federal money, then there goes our Pre-K North with 100 students."

The Jonesboro Pre-K Center, located on Flint Street, currently has 295 students.

The new Pre-K North has a waiting list of around 40 students waiting to get in.

"We learned through Arkansas State University through brain research that when your 3 and 4, that you have windows of opportunity open," Roush said. "If you do not learn your math and literacy skills during that time you lose it. So, it's important that we teach 3, 4 and 5 year olds about A, B, C's and letters and numbers."

The level of poverty also makes a huge difference in the number of children that need that pre-K education.

According to Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the importance of pre-K rises as the number of children living in poverty goes up.

"When we hear about Arkansas moving forward with Pre-K education and early childhood and then we face a cut that is like talking out of both sides of your mouth," Roush said. "And I think that in Arkansas, with our poverty rate. You know poverty students, they don't hear as many words at home. They don't do as many activities at home. Arkansas has a high poverty rate."

In Arkansas, that is 29% of the children.

Pre-K enables those low-income children to start school on grade level with their peers.

Superintendent of Jonesboro School District Dr. Kim Wilbanks said the lack of guaranteed funding for such a necessary program is shocking.

"What I think was most important in this meeting is the jeopardy of funding for quality pre-K," Wilbanks said. "We know research very specifically says for a student to be successful, that success is so increased when they've been a part of a quality pre-K program. Yet in our state we don't always ensure that every student has that opportunity because the funding does not provide for every 4 year old to be in a quality pre-K program."

Executive Director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Rich Huddleston said the state hasn't helped provide funding for some time now.

"High quality pre-K is so important now to the future education of our kids," Huddleston said. "It's critically important to the state's workforce, to the state's economy, but unfortunately pre-K, in terms of state funding for high quality pre-K since 2008, there's been virtually no new funding for high quality pre-K. And like anything else, if don't keep the quality of the program high over time the results that you get from that aren't going to be as strong as they need to be."

Roush said the public needs to reach out to our legislators.

"We have to talk to our legislators," Roush said. "We have to talk to our Governor. We have to let people know how important it is for the pre-K to be funded."

"We encourage everyone to reach out to their leaders in their community," Huddleston said. "Jonesboro is unique in that the leaders in this community and also the state chamber have made pre-K on the high priority which is great. The next step is to get local leaders to reach out to both the Governor's office, but also to local legislators and tell them how important high quality pre-K is for the kids in this community. Because in the end it's going to be the legislature and it's going to be the Governor who make important decisions about how the state spends its limited resources and tax dollars in terms of the state budget."

Huddleston said they will release a study next month that shows the Arkansas Better Chance Program, the high quality state funded pre-K program, needs $43 million just to maintain its current quality.

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