Increase Access to High-Quality Pre-K Programs
Students with a strong start in school become educated, productive members of our workforce
While strides have been—most notably, an increase of $3 million in permanent funding for the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program during the 91st Arkansas General Assembly in 2017, ongoing investment in early childhood education is critical to improving educational outcomes in Arkansas. Access to high-quality Pre-K learning opportunities should be a top priority, especially in high-need areas, so students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.
By investing in high-quality Pre-K, we make sure students start their academic career on the right foot and stay ahead from the beginning. We know that students who have a strong start become educated, productive members of our workforce.
Early Literacy and School Readiness
An abundance of research has shown that the academic achievement gap begins as a school readiness gap. Scientists seem to agree that at least 85 percent of a child’s core brain structure is formed in the first three years of life and that establishes either a sturdy or fragile foundation for everything that follows.
Arkansas’ goal is for all students to read at grade level by the end of third grade—a pivotal point in a child’s cognitive development and academic learning. It is at this time that children transition from “learning-to-read” to “reading-to-learn,” which prepares students for success throughout their school years. However, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessments, only 31 percent of Arkansas third graders are actually reading at grade level. Closing this literacy gap will be critical to success.
Poverty Hinders Success
Twenty-nine percent of Arkansas children, from birth to age 5, live in poverty. Research has found that by the time they enter kindergarten children in poverty hear roughly 30 million fewer words, compared to their more affluent peers. In fact, the average vocabulary for an impoverished child entering kindergarten is less than 500 words.
Healthy Minds and Bodies
Access to high-quality pre-K is a smart investment from a public health standpoint. Economically disadvantaged children enrolled in pre-K programs are more likely to be vaccinated and have access to healthy meals. Early childhood programs also support at or above grade level school achievement and reduce unnecessary special education placement. Children who complete pre-K programs also develop better social skills and heightened self-esteem.
ForwARd is actively working to raise awareness of the need for quality pre-K and worked closely with the Governor and policy-makers to secure $3 million in additional funding for pre-K programs. An additional $4.3 million in grant funding was set aside for districts to use the funding for pre-K, after-school and summer programs and tutoring.
Alongside these efforts to increase funding for early childhood education, ForwARd contracted with a top research firm to determine how the quality of Arkansas’s pre-K data systems can be improved to provide more reliable longitudinal data. Based on ForwARd’s work, the Walton Family Foundation is currently funding further research on these topics.
In the months ahead, we will continue our work to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood education, while also advocating for incentives to advance education quality, additional teaching supports and further improvements to Arkansas’s data systems.
Additionally, ForwARd will seek to ensure that our young children receive developmental and mental health screenings and appropriate treatment, as well as to advocate for the expansion of successful early literacy programs.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, ForwARd will convene a Policy Collaborative of educators, policy-makers, civic and business leaders from across Arkansas in a coordinated effort to develop and advance common-sense policy recommendations focused on Pre-K in an effort to enhance educational outcomes throughout the state.