Education Commish: Ky. must expand access to preschool, needs more money from cuts or revenue

06/25/2012 06:15 AM

Kentucky should invest in making sure children from families who earn double the poverty rate or less can attend preschool programs — and leaders need to put a priority on finding the money to pay for it, said Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.

Holliday, whose contract was renewed by the Kentucky board of education this month at his current $225,000-a-year salary, said cost cutting is the first objective to find the money.

Gov. Steve Beshear proposed expanding access to preschool for families who make up to 160 percent of the poverty rate — up from the current 150 percent threshold. That would have cost $15 million over two years. While the House agreed to half of that amount, the Senate moved that money to other areas of the budget to avoid using one-time dollars that contribute to Kentucky’s structural imbalance.

“The money’s not there. I think what we’ve got to look for are revenue sources for that,” Holliday said (3:40).

Holliday said the state and school districts need to curb spending, which could mean further cuts in what they pay for teacher and employee health care. Already, his office has shed $1.3 million in personnel costs by cutting the number of deputy commissioners to six from eight and the number of directors from 25 to 16.

As for the districts themselves, state education officials still can’t accurately track their spending on administrative costs. Find out why at 7:45 of the interview:

As for preschool, Holliday said the best return on investment for the state is paying to make sure students from low income families have access to early childhood education.

Three states offer universal preschool programs: Georgia, Oklahoma and Florida. Oklahoma covers the cost of as many as two-thirds of the state’s four year olds to attend preschool, spending $139 million or $7,400 per student. Georgia spends $325 million and about $4,200 per student, according to EducationNews.org. Both states have been offering universal preschool since the 1990s.

However, Kentucky’s 4th graders last year scored better than 4th graders in those two states. Kentucky tied with Florida in the top tier of states with scores of 225 on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams, above the 221 national average. Georgia’s 4th graders scored 221 and Oklahoma’s scored 215.

“It’s not enough just to provide universal preschool. If you don’t have some follow up with your kindergarten through third grade to make sure the advantages you got from preschool continue on, then typically the effects of preschool programs could bleed out,” Holliday said (1:40). Holliday explains what Kentucky is doing now to track follow-up progress (2:00 to 3:00).

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