Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Casper) had three reasons why he helped kill an early childhood education bill Tuesday that could have greatly improved programs for young children to learn.
He said they don’t work, they’re expensive, and they usurp the rights of parents to educate their kids.
None of these arguments are true. They are so far off the mark as to be laughable. But there’s nothing funny about the House’s defeat of the bill, which fell eight votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed to be introduced this budget session.
After claiming that studies show early childhood education programs have no significant impact on kids’ future learning skills, Kroeker closed his remarks with a defense of parents, along with a healthy heap of government bashing.
“I just think we need to make it clear that parents are in charge of their children’s education, not the government,” he said. Cue the American flag and launch some fireworks, because how can education officials dare try to take away parents’ rights?
They’re not. “The overwhelming majority of parents use child care, and they want the highest quality child care and early childhood programs that exist,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie). “There was a lot of misinformation out there about this bill.”
House Bill 26 was passed unanimously earlier Tuesday morning by the House Education Committee. Connolly noted some Republicans who voted for the bill in committee turned around and voted against it when the measure was up for introduction, because “they fear the political fallout.”
“There’s an organized effort in this state to combat any kind of movement in this direction, and members of the House received lots of emails from those folks,” Connolly related. “It’s politics at its worst.”
As a member of the House Education Committee, Connolly has been working on the measure for years. After the vote, she acknowledged, “I’m devastated by this.”
It’s no wonder. In addition to all the hard work she’s put in on the issue, Connolly knows the public backs her efforts. A poll conducted in Wyoming late last year by DFM Research, a polling firm out of St. Paul, Minn., found that during the last legislative session, 66 percent said they supported a bill that would have gathered ideas from across the state on how best to ensure that Wyoming children are ready for kindergarten.
In the same poll, 66 percent said early childhood education programs have a strong impact on overall student achievement, and 22 percent said the programs had some impact.
Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, spoke in defense of HB 26 after Kroeker finished trashing it.
“I just heard the argument that parents are in charge of their [kids’] early childhood, and this bill does not give that away,” she began. “Parents are putting their children in early childhood programs that are operated and overseen by four different state agencies. It is happening.
“What is not happening is these agencies talking to each other,” she continued. “This bill enables that [communication]; in fact it mandates that. This doesn’t take that away.”
Harvey said early childhood education “is especially important for children who are at risk … This bill gives us a better way to coordinate our effort and save money.”
Contrary to Kroeker’s claims about the ineffectiveness of early childhood programs, Connolly said,
“The valid and reliable evidence show that they work and are cost-effective.”
Here are just a few results of studies: low-income children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get into future trouble with the law. The Perry Project, which looked at participants over a 40-year period in Ypsilanti, Mich., found that those in childhood education programs showed greater literacy, higher grades, a greater likelihood to graduate from high school, higher earnings, less welfare and lower rates of teen pregnancy.
Where are your studies, Rep. Kroeker?
HB 26 would have required the director of the Wyoming Department of Education to coordinate early childhood education programs in that agency, plus the Department of Family Services, the Department of Workforce Services and the Department of Health. Included would have been programs to target educationally disadvantaged children.
A total of $1 million would have gone to the Department of Education for a grant program available to school districts or other nonprofit service providers “for developing, enhancing or sustaining high quality early childhood education programs.”
Another $500,000 would have been given to the Department of Education “for supplementing, not supplanting, amounts available locally and otherwise for collaboration between local governments, political subdivisions, state agencies, nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders” in developing a comprehensive program within all of the jurisdictions.
A bit long-winded, like a lot of legislation, but what it all means is the state would spend money to have the agencies better communicate and be more effective, and even save some funds.
What’s wrong with that picture? Nothing. What is seriously wrong with killing this bill is the blockheadedness (probably not a real word) of lawmakers who have decided on three separate occasions that they will make the investment to be one of the states that spend the most on students per capita, but they won’t spend money to help children better prepare for kindergarten and the early grades.
Then, the legislators who voted against HB 26 are likely wondering why the K-12 results aren’t better, because they’ve spent so much money on public schools.
Take a look at the legislators who voted against the bill. Then, the next time they tell you that children are our future, and everything they do is “for the kids,” laugh in their face.