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October 17, 2004

MTI's John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

John Matthews, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal:

For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.

This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.

Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.

Because of the increasing financial pressures placed upon the Madison School District, resulting from state- imposed revenue limits, many educational services and programs have been cut to the bone.

During the 2001-02 budget cycle, the axe unfortunately fell on the district's 4-year-old kindergarten program. The School Board was forced to eliminate the remaining $380,000 funding then available to those families opting to enroll their children in the program.

School districts such as Madison have not been able to provide 4-year-old kindergarten because under existing state-imposed revenue limits, there is no state aid for pupils enrolled in the first year of the program. Under the antiquated state school finance law, it takes three years for a school board to achieve full funding for the program. The Madison board recently estimated the need for an additional $4 million in 2005-06 alone to implement a 4-year-old kindergarten program.

While 4-year-old kindergarten is expensive, it provides substantial benefits. According to the often-cited Chicago Longitudinal Study, the positive impact of an early and extensive early childhood program saves the public significant money over the long haul. Under the leadership of UW-Madison professor Arthur J. Reynolds, the 16-year study found that early intervention programs reduce expenditures for school remedial services of grade retention and special education, among other costs. In fact, overall, $7.10 was returned to society at large for every dollar invested in pre- school.

With Gov. Jim Doyle and state schools Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster promoting funding of 4-year- old kindergarten in the next state budget, the Madison board is discussing making this valuable program available to Madison's children once again.

Madison Teachers Inc. is supportive of this proposal, but only if the board keeps control of the program to assure its quality and employs teachers who have achieved the education and license to carry out the district's mission.

The children and the taxpayers deserve this assurance. The quality of education depends on it. MTI believes that the success of the program depends on the quality of the teachers, as well as the coordination and supervision of the program.

The children deserve this educational opportunity. They will benefit significantly from it and for their whole lives. Society will benefit from it. Taxpayers will benefit from it. But no one will achieve the full benefit if it is not done well.

Matthews is executive director of the Madison Teachers Inc. labor union.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at October 17, 2004 10:56 PM
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