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Governors Tackling Early-Childhood Education in Budget Proposals

Governors around the country are outlining their priorities for the next budget year, and for several of those states, early-childhood education is at or near the top of the list.

It's "unprecedented" to see this level of activity in the states, said Kris Perry, the new executive director of the First Five Years Fund, in a conversation she and I had last week. "I personally couldn't be happier to see states stepping up individually."

Deval L. Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, may have put forward one of the most extensive plans: In his Jan. 16 budget address, he called for spending nearly $57 million to eliminate preschool waiting lists by 2017 and $60.5 million to "enhance the quality of early education programs and the effectiveness of the early educator workforce."

Patrick proposes paying for his budget initiative by increasing the state's income tax and eliminating some corporate tax breaks, while at the same time cutting the state sales tax and doubling the personal income tax exemption. The Boston Globe offers more details.

But Massachusetts isn't alone. Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan and a Republican, said in his Jan. 16 State of the State address that he would like to see an expansion of the state's early childhood education program. (The state has made available a video and full transcript of the address.) The state estimates that about 29,000 children are eligible for state-funded preschool, but there aren't enough spaces for them. "I think it is important we make a major budget commitment to get as many kids as possible and get us on a path to getting all those kids in Great Start Early Childhood program," he said in his address to the state legislature.

Republican Governor Mike Pence of Indiana used his Jan. 22 speech to propose expanding full-day kindergarten in the state, and to create a program that would provide a dollar-to-dollar match of private funds donated to preschool providers in the state. "Let's work together to expand incentives for Hoosiers to support this kind of innovative, community-driven pre-K effort for our low-income children," he said.

Early-childhood expansions have also been proposed in Vermont and Hawaii.

More early-childhood proposals from governors may be coming. It remains to be seen how many of these ambitious proposals touted so far will come to fruition. But the efforts are something to pay attention to as legislatures start to draft budgets for the next fiscal year.

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