The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and six other leading national education organizations are urging the federal government to take a more active leadership role in assuring that all children have access to quality preschool education.
At a briefing Tuesday on Capitol Hill, the group — known as the Pre-K Coalition — released a report titled Ensuring America’s Future: Policy Statements and Recommendations from National Education Organizations. It calls on local, state, and federal policymakers to “come together to design an early childhood financing system that ensures equity, supports quality and effectiveness, fosters collaboration, and does not take funding away from any other existing education programs.”
A major step in that direction is for Congress to expand the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to include early education practices and interventions, the report said. “The reauthorization of the ESEA offers a unique opportunity to update our nation’s primary federal education law to take full advantage of high quality pre-K,” the coalition said.
At Tuesday’s briefing, several speakers said preschool is an integral part of the education process, providing young children with critical social and academic skills that will influence their success in elementary school and beyond.
“We believe if we have them ready to learn in those important years, it will have a huge effect on the years they’re in the [K-12] system,” said C. Ed Massey, president-elect NSBA and a member of the Boone County (Ken.) Board of Education.
“Pre-K is not separate, apart from K-12,” Massey said. “It is a part of that process.”
The days when researchers and advocates had to explain why preschool is important are, for the most part, over. But despite groundbreaking programs in many states, several speakers said policymakers have a long way to go to create a nationwide system that truly integrates preschool into the broader education process. And that means creating an environment in which preschool teachers are looked upon as true peers of their counterparts in the K-12 system.
“We need to stop drawing this firewall between teachers who teacher preschool education and those who are in the K-12 arena,” said Brenda Lilienthal Welburn, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education. (NASBE), one of the coalition members.
And this will require concerted leadership from the top – at all levels of government: federal, state and local, several speakers said.
“We often talk about distributing best practices,” Welburn said. “We don’t talk enough about distributing model policies.”
In the past 10 years, preschool enrollment has grown by more than 70 percent and public schools are involved as never before. But even in model programs, such as the one at Washburn Elementary School in Bloomington, Minn., Principal Jon H. Millerhagen said it takes considerable effort to get all groups with a stake in early education to come to the table. For example, curriculum directors need to collaborate with preschool teachers to ensure the most effective alignment of the preschool curriculum with the rest of the elementary school program, Millerhagen said at the news conference.
Another issue is the stability of funding. Washburn’s preschool program has been widely praised, and it is supported by grants from several foundations. But in order for all public preschool programs to be sustainable in the long run, they must have a reliable source of funding, Millerhagen said.
In addition to NSBA and NASBE, the coalition includes the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Education Association.