Our Opinion: Preschool enhancement not realistic at this time

Good ideas are not always realistic.

A state senator’s proposal to fund additional preschool programs has been received graciously as an educational enhancement.

But the added costs to the state are impractical, particularly at a time when a shortfall already exists in the formula for distributing state aid to elementary and secondary schools.

Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, has filed two bills to finance preschool programs through the state’s foundation formula. One would fund preschools for children ages 3-5 in schools that operate full-day kindergartens, which includes all but a handful of the state’s public school districts. The other would finance only low-income students in those schools.

Although no official cost estimates for the proposals have been completed, Keaveny believes the expense could be offset by eliminating later costs associated with students who are held back and repeating grades.

He also envisions the preschool funding would begin only after the foundation formula for grades K-12 is fully funded.

Keaveny’s vision was greeted warmly by fellow senators, including Republicans. “Conceptually, it’s fantastic,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg.

But a caution was sounded by Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. “We’ve got challenges that need to be addressed with our current formula,” he said, “so adding new obligations is probably going to be a difficult sell in the Legislature.”

Preschool programs in Missouri do not operate entirely without assistance.

State grants are available to help establish public and private preschool programs. And public school districts are required to provide special education services for children ages 3-5.

What the state does not do is fund preschools through a mechanism similar to the foundation formula for grades K-12.

We agree such an educational enhancement is a worthy goal.

Pursuing it in this legislative session is premature.

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