Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is making publically funded, universal pre-kindergarten a centerpiece of his campaign to unseat current Republican Gov. John Kasich. According to FitzGerald, his plan, dubbed “Pre-K All the Way,” will help the state both in terms of education as well as economics.
“This is an investment that makes sense,” he said. “It decreases the dropout rate and increases the economic performance of kids that go through it over time. This policy decision on our part comes out of discussions we’ve had with teachers on what works and what doesn’t.”
FitzGerald said that accroding to a 2010-11 report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, 2 percent of Ohio children had access to state-funded pre-k programs, well below the national average of 28 percent.
According to Connie Wehrkamp, a spokesperson for Kasich Taylor for Ohio, that report does not take in the whole picture of how the government funds pre-k and early childhood education programs.
“In Ohio, we have our traditional ODE-funded preschools, which the NIEER report points to,” she said. “However, we also have a very large chunk of funding that comes through the Department of Job and Family Services, which the NIEER report doesn’t look at.”
Wehrkamp points to recent additions to state funding that is raising the number of state-funded pre-k slots, coupled with more than $600 million in funding to ODJFS child care and preschool programs.
“The most recent budget that was passed last June added another $32 million over the biennium to ODE preschool funding,” she said. “What that does is takes us from 5,700 slots to over 11,000 slots by the upcoming school year.”
By making pre-k available to all Ohio children, however, FitzGerald hopes to help bring more children up to a sufficient reading level, thereby lowering the state’s dropout rate.
“There is a correlation from this research that if a child is not reading at grade level by third grade, they seem to be either in a downward spiral,” he said. “If they are at grade level, they seem to be on track. We’ve talked to third-grade teachers, and they say that the biggest single factor that they’ve observed as to whether or not a child will read at grade level is whether they received quality pre-k.”
This would be a different approach to Kasich’s Third-Grade Guarantee, holding back third-grade pupils not reading at grade level.
“He’s approaching it by saying, ‘I’ll give everyone a test at the end of third grade, and whoever doesn’t pass will be held back,’” FitzGerald said. “I think that will make dropout rates worse.”
However, according to Wehrkamp, that program is more than just one test at one grade level.
“The Third Grade Guarantee starts in kindergarten with early intervention,” she said. “I think there’s some misunderstanding that this starts and ends in third grade. This starts very early on.”
When it comes to paying for this plan, FitzGerald estimates at this time that the program would cost $500 million to initiate statewide. He was hesitant to say when and how this money would be spent, given today’s economic uncertainty.
“We hope we can do it completely within four to five years,” he said. “We can’t say that definitely because we don’t know what the economic climate will be. My responsibility, however, would be to say what my spending priorities would be as governor, and this would be one of my top priorities.”
While the price tag may seem high, FitzGerald argues that Kasich has squandered more money that that during his administration.
“The governor has already given away more than $500 million in the last four years in things like tax cuts for some of the wealthiest people in the state, so we think the resources over time will be there if we make this one of our top priorities,” he said.
While FitzGerald maintains that he is not running on a platform of tax increases, Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, is concerned that FitzGerald’s promises may not be feasible without increasing taxes.
“How will Ed pay for this plan and over $2 billion in other spending he has already proposed?” he said in an email. “According to the Dispatch, Policy Matters Ohio, a Democratic think-tank, believes more spending must be financed through higher taxes.”
FitzGerald hopes that by adopting this policy, Ohio can join other states that he maintains have made this concept work.
“It’s happening all over the country, including some very conservative states like Oklahoma and Tennessee,” he said. “They have made this a priority.”
By Craig Kelly - The Lima News, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Lima News (Lima, Ohio)
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