A new report presented to a legislative committee Monday says $14 million is needed to raise state funding for pre-K programs to meet cost of living increases. The study also says only about half of eligible children are being served by Arkansas’s early childhood education programs.
State Representative David Kizzia joined Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families to share details of the study with members of the Education Committee. Lawmakers from Alabama and Oklahoma dialed in to discuss the successes of their pre-K programs following increases in funding.
The report, called “The Effective Use of State Resources And Coordination of Programs to Improve Educational Outcomes For Children From Birth To Age Five,” says that the first five years of childhood are a period of rapid development, with just 56 percent of eligible children being served by the Arkansas programs.
“Early childhood investment as has been shown time and time again gives a good return on investment. It does not cure the ills of poverty nor will it, but it’s a way out, a way children can start on an even playing field with other children as they start school,” said Kizzia.
The report recommends increasing funding for Arkansas Better Chance, which is the state-supported early education program. ABC has not received a cost of living increase in seven years, the study says.
According to Jerri Derlikowski of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the state can’t improve or maintain current levels of service without extra funding.
“Right now we don’t have account of what the waiting list in all the areas are, but the solution we think is to take care of the kids we have right now and that’s the first step. And we don’t have enough to pay the teachers we have right now a good salary,” said Derlikowski.
Rates of service are particularly low in southwest Arkansas and in rural areas statewide.
“It’s really tight. The providers are supposed to put a 40 percent match in, its hard to ask a small businessman to contribute 40 percent of their own cost and not be able to raise those through funds for their services.”
According to the report, almost one third of Arkansas children live in poverty. Barriers to expanding access include inadequate facilities and transportation.