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Report shows increase in Kentucky early ed funding

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Local districts, foundation investing in preschools

By Kelly Cantrall

Kentucky is one of a dozen states increasing its commitment to early childhood education and local school districts and community organizations also are investing to boost learning from birth to age 5.

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A report from the National Institute for Early Education Research revealed that Kentucky increased its spending per student in early childhood education for the 2011-2012 school year. Nationally, state funding fell by more than half a billion dollars.

One of only 12 states to increase funding, Kentucky now ranks 24th in the country in spending for early childhood education. Per-pupil spending increased from $3,508 for a pre-K student in 2011 to $3,533 in 2012, according to the institute, which is based at Rutgers University.

Hardin County and Elizabethtown Independent school districts have buildings dedicated to preschool and kindergarten training. In addition, the Central Kentucky Community Foundation and Hardin County Schools are sponsoring the Get Ready! Camp for the second year this summer, which is for children in that age range.

HCS also recently started Preschool Readiness Academy, which consists of two preschool classrooms for students who didn’t quite meet requirements to receive state-funded preschool services. The academy classrooms are funded with federal money. Those classrooms will be available again next school year.

Carlena Sheeran, HCS director of early childhood education, said she feels Kentucky has been progressive with investing in early childhood education. On the local level, she sees many community leaders working as advocates of the programs.

“I think it’s one of those situations that it’s been coming for awhile,”Sheeran said.

Davette Swiney, vice president of the community foundation, said spending on early education programs can be a tough sell because results aren’t as quantifiable as with older students.

She said the ultimate results of the investment aren’t seen until two decades later when those preschool students are adults. Only then can their ability to contribute to society be gauged.

“That’s why it’s so hard, because the return is so far down the road,”she said.

Taxpayers feel the “double-whammy”of paying for preschool and other programs while also investing in adults who aren’t able to contribute to the community, she said. Despite these hardships, Swiney said it’s important to advocate for the importance of setting the foundation of a good education early.

“At some point we have to right the cart,”she said.

The report also ranked Kentucky ninth in the U.S. in preschool enrollment of 3-year-olds and 15th in enrollment of 4-year-olds. The commonwealth met nine of 10 benchmarks for quality programs set forth by the institution, which include program monitoring and requiring teachers to specialize in pre-K education.

The benchmark the state didn’t meet is the degree it requires of assistant teachers, according to the research institute’s report. Kentucky requires a high school diploma of assistants, while the institution recommends assistant teachers have child development associate credentials.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.