The 2015 Montana Legislature is more than six months away from convening, but agencies at the state and local level are already building their cases for funding. And that includes Gov. Steve Bullock, who will ask lawmakers fund universal preschool for our state’s children.
Right now, government-funded preschool is only offered to children living in poverty through the Head Start program. Though details have yet to be worked out, Bullock’s proposal would make it available to all children. But, as with all public school programs, his plan will cost money – an estimated $88 million. There’s a case to be made, however, that the money would be an investment that will yield a return.
The Montana Budget & Policy Center recently issued a report that concluded that pre-kindergarten schooling raises IQs, enhances math and reading schools in later grades, lowers dropout rates and decreases the likelihood that students will abuse alcohol or drugs and end up in trouble with the law later in life.
Dropouts, drug abuse and crime are all societal ills that come with heavy costs to our justice system and publicly funded rehabilitation programs. Spending a little money providing preschool to all the state’s children now could save a lot of money down the road.
More importantly, though, we all have an interest in giving students the maximum chance at success. As the economy becomes increasingly global in nature, today’s young people will find themselves competing with counterparts in other nations. And recent research indicates that American students are educationally ill-prepared when compared to students in other developed countries. Access to preschool could be the answer to the education deficit that has plagued our nation’s schools.
Selling this program to the notoriously stingy Legislature will be tough. But 42 states have already adopted universal preschool programs. And even the most frugal legislators should be willing to set politics aside and do what’s right for our children, our schools and our state.