October 10, 2008

Issue is Money

Two recent stories reflected a dilemma over early childhood education.

One article showed that the number of Kansas students enrolled in full-day kindergarten nearly tripled in the past 10 years as legislators pumped money into public education.

In the other story, a national advocacy group issued a report ranking Kansas among the five worst states for parents seeking a high-quality, state-funded education program for children of pre- kindergarten age.

The pre-K story said Kansas spends far less than many other states, including neighbors Oklahoma and Arkansas, on early childhood programs. Advocates of such programs say the state should spend more than the $11.1 million in grants it is putting into pre- K education.

But where will that money come from?

That's the dilemma.

Plenty of taxpayers would agree that early childhood education programs are valuable in preparing children for those all-day kindergarten classes and for success in subsequent years. It makes sense that kids who enter the public school system armed with basic learning tools -- understanding words, letters, numbers and colors, for example -- are more likely to do well.

But taxpayers are already groaning under the weight of an $800 million increase in education funding in recent years, courtesy of a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to boost spending on public schools.

Can the state squeeze taxpayers for yet more funding for education programs?

Pre-K programs seem to be a good cause, and there are far worse ways to spend taxpayer dollars than on than education.

But lawmakers must proceed cautiously in determining whether to boost spending.

Although a stable agricultural economy has given Kansans some insulation from the global financial crisis, these aren't good times for state taxpayers.

The stock market is a nosedive.

The national housing market continues to slump.

The cost of food, fuel and other necessities is on the rise.

We wouldn't question the value of early childhood programs, but we do wonder to what extent Kansans can afford them right now.

The state has made strides in education, as evidenced by the increases in all-day kindergarten enrollment. The number of all-day students has grown to 27,165 last year from 8,024 in 1998.

The more we can do to get children ready for the classroom, the better.

Perhaps pre-K programs can be supported by shifting funds from other areas of the state budget as opposed to increasing taxes. Taxpayers can only be expected to do so much.

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