Amid Preschool Proposals, Questions Remain for WY

 
by Taylor Viydo, tviydo@k2tv.com 
 
President Obama is calling for a quality preschool education for every child in America. The President first mentioned the proposals during the State of the Union address and has since emphasized the importance of early childhood education. 
 
The White House has said it would like the federal government to work with states to provide preschool to low to moderate-income families across the U.S.. Under the President's plan, Early Head start programs would be expanded. The government would also provide federal matching dollars to states that already offer preschool to low-income families, as well as incentives for states to expand preschool for middle-class families. 
 
Of those in education, most seem to agree on the importance of early childhood development. "The research is saying that if children are ready for school and they can read when they are supposed to read - they are successful in school, they tend to do very well in life," said Dr. Emily King of the Natrona County School District. King is in charge of NCSD's publicly funded preschool program for children of low-income families. 
 
"When we really develop those social and emotional skills at this age, [students] are so much more ready for kindergarten," added Kyler Gallinger who teaches preschool at Shephard of the Hills in Casper. 
 
In terms of pre-K education in Natrona County, it's a mix of private and public options. There are a handful of private preschools, some of which are religiously-affiliated and others that are not. NCSD runs 12 publicly-funded preschools through its Title I schools with an enrollment of about 300 children. 
 
In addition, Casper is also home to a Head Start preschool and the Child Development Center - both focusing on low-income families. Around 300 students each are enrolled in Head Start and CDC. 
 
With around 900 children attending some-form of non-private preschool, there is still much demand. "We are filled to brim," says Dr. King. "The problem with our NCSD schools is that they are for usually low-income children or at-risk children." King says the school district could enroll "three times" as many children in preschool programs. 
 
Another challenge: cost. As King explains, preschools are by no means cheap. "All of our teachers are paid, they are all certified and highly qualified early childhood teachers. They should be paid what their education is worth." 
 
Under President Obama's proposals for preschool expansion, states would have to hire qualified teachers and meet certain benchmarks to receive funding. States would also have to meet curriculum standards and keep class sizes small. 
 
In Wyoming, questions also remain about maintaining student-teacher ratios and providing pre-K education in rural communities. Dr. King says some schools in small towns have trouble finding enough preschool-aged children to justify creating a preschool. 

The Cowboy State also stands to lose some Head Start services in the face of looming federal budget cuts. If the sequester goes into effect on Friday, Head Start and Early Head Start services would be eliminated for around 100 children in Wyoming.
 
Despite the challenges, the goal of providing universal early childhood education is still a desirable one. "I think that we have a responsibility to our children. This is our future," says Gallinger. "I think about what their lives are going to be like, and this is where it starts." 
 
"I realize it's very expensive, but I think it's very important Wyoming seriously consider preschool for all children," adds Dr. King.