Commentary: School funding should start before kindergarten

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

Publicly funded preschools, especially for children in low-income families, is an idea whose time has come. Research tells us that well-run preschools can improve the odds children will succeed in school, with better grades and test scores and less need for special education. That's especially true for children who live in poverty.

Though we knew preschools help give kids a strong start, until now the feds offered just a minimal program for low-income students – Head Start – and Alaska has had no state-funded education for pre-kindergarten students.

That's changing for the better.

President Obama, in his first major policy speech on education last week, referred to "compelling evidence" of the importance of good preschools. He called on states to raise the quality of early-learning programs and said he'll call on Congress to approve grants to support them.

In Alaska, a statewide education summit in November called for the state to offer preschool classes to families of every 3-, 4- and 5-year old in the state.

Gov. Sarah Palin responded with a budget proposal for a state-funded pilot program, with preschool for 500 Alaska children. Then came the federal stimulus money. Superintendent Carol Comeau has said she wants to direct some of Anchorage's federal money to start preschools at schools with a high number of low-income students.

It's an opportunity to target improvements where they're most needed.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.