For a hopeful pessimist like me, it’s always nice when the real world belies your general sense of doom.
After all, the ranks of the poor are expanding, the national debt is skyrocketing, Wall Street bankers are again collecting exorbitant bonuses and no one really cares much about the shrinking polar ice caps. Throw in the mere existence of “Jersey Shore” and you’ve got a real social apocalypse on your hands.
There are a few rays of light amid the darkness, though, including plans by the Madison School District to institute a 4-year-old kindergarten program next year.
I’ve been surprised at the relative lack of controversy over this. You’d think that adding what is basically another grade to the public K-12 education system — at a cost to taxpayers of about $12 million in its first year — would bring out more school-choicers and teachers-union haters to decry the program as too expensive and another unwanted intrusion by government into the private sector.
But it hasn’t, and this is probably partly due to Wisconsin’s long history of supporting early education. The state was home to the first private kindergarten in the United States, opened in Watertown in 1856, and may well be the only state to include a commitment to 4-year-old education in its original constitution, according to The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.
Today, 335 of the state’s 415 eligible districts already offer some form of free, professionally delivered 4-year-old kindergarten, and well over half of the state’s 4-year-olds are covered. A 2009 study by The National Institute for Early Education Research ranks Wisconsin sixth among 38 states in terms of access to 4-year-old preschool. (Twelve states have no formal preschool program.)