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Politics Seen Trumping Research in Battles Over Early Education

Years of research have shown that kids who attend a quality preschool program do better in school than kids who don't. But news reports this week illustrate that studies and reports can mean little once politics comes into play.

In North Carolina on Thursday, Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue criticized the Republican-led legislature for a budget that slashed early-education funding and reduced seats in state preschool programs for at-risk 4-year-olds.

"We've proved it and proved it and proved it," Perdue said, according to a local TV news report. "Why are we having to prove it one more time in front of the General Assembly. There continues to be this ongoing battle for funds, support, understanding, and I would even question the need to develop some compassion."

The governor's speech at an annual conference for the North Carolina Head Start Association comes a couple of weeks after she announced that her administration would spend $9.3 million to create this school year another 2,000 slots in NC Pre-K, the state-funded preschool program. A legislative committee has backed off on a proposal to fully privatize the program, but is considering changing eligibility requirements that are based on income.

Meanwhile, another news report explores the growing pressure on Head Start programs to improve in the face of criticism from Republicans and other conservatives who view the preschool programs as "glorified day care."

The story points to Frederick County, Md., which stopped funding its local Head Start program last year, and notes that "some parents, supporters and others saw politics at play, especially as two county commissioners who supported relinquishing the program emphasized the need for strong marriages and the fact that their own wives stayed home to care for their children."

Some of these same ideas are behind why Indiana doesn't fund preschool programs, according to the Learning Curve education blog in The Journal Gazette. Indiana is one of 11 states without a statewide preschool program.

Let's hope that lawmakers and politicians nationwide who are debating whether early-childhood education is worth the funding don't forget the potential impact on our youngest learners.

Perhaps Purdue said it best.

"Even in difficult times, you don't eat your seed corn and these little kids are our seed corn, the next generation of workers," she told a Raleigh TV reporter.

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