I’m sitting here tonight working on portfolios for my preschoolers’ parent teacher conferences next week and as I sit here working, I’ve started to get upset about the talk of axing the free pre-K program in the Kansas City, Missouri school district. First, let me say this: I know that our school district, like everyone else, is reliant on state and federal funding for these programs. I also know that funding is getting more and more stretched, perhaps it is even gone completely. Even more, I also know that I’m preaching to the choir in most of what I’m about to say.
I understand (please correct me if I’m misguided here) that the KCMO school district is thinking about a tuition based pre-K program for those who can afford it. And I honestly am so torn about this that I hardly know where to begin. I know plenty of people who are sending their children to public pre-K programs in KC who can afford it. I also know plenty of people who send their children to K-12 schools in KCMO who might be able to afford tuition, but who have chosen public schooling. We are one of those families. What I would like to know is where do you draw the line at who can or can’t afford your program? And, who decided that $6000 a year per child would be the price tag?
I teach preschool. The research is there. Attending a Pre-K program is probably the best gift you can give your child. Children who attend preschool are more likely to succeed in kindergarten. Blah, blah, blah…you get my point. Here’s what the research doesn’t tell you. We don’t really prepare your child for kindergarten. I cringe when I read about a pre-K program that will have your child “kindergarten ready”. What does that even mean? I don’t sit your child down and teach the alphabet or numbers and I certainly don’t expect your child to know how to read or write. I tell parents that it isn’t my job to get your child ready for kindergarten. It’s kindergarten’s job to be ready for your child.
I might not teach those things, but guess what? When we count our friends, our fingers, the windows in our room? Math. When we sing and dance and read every book the library has on the shelf? Early literacy. When we walk outside and collect leaves or discuss the weather? When we plant seeds and watch them grow? Science. Your child is a sponge – he is learning, learning, learning ALL the time. And what better gift to give your child but the gift of preschool? The catch? Not all people will be able to afford it, and those are the kids who will most likely need a structured program. Most importantly? Those are the children who will also need the MOST important thing one can learn in a preschool classroom, in my opinion: social skills. What your child learns in preschool are the skills to communicate with his peers, to ask for help, to trust in adults and in other children. No math or science or literacy lesson can beat that.
Here is what will happen in KCMO…and it’s disgusting. Parents of students who are deemed wealthy enough to pay for a once public pre-K program will pull their students and opt for a private program, likely with the bonus of a smaller class size. And, why shouldn’t they? I should be thrilled, as it might raise the number of children in the private program where I work, but I’m not. In fact, it upsets me because I worry about those who will be lost in the shuffle. Students have their entire lives to dislike going to school – why start at age 3? You don’t think those children will pick up on the stress of their families paying for a once free program? Or, how about just not being able to attend at all? This city is doing a disservice to the tiniest citizens of our communities by not figuring out another option to this mess.