Gov. Steve Beshear stopped by Lexington's Dixie Magnet Elementary School Thursday morning to meet students and tout his proposal for expanding preschool eligibility across Kentucky.
The governor spent nearly an hour talking and playing with kids in Lisa Mudd's preschool class at Dixie, saying his proposal would let more youngsters enjoy the benefits early childhood education provides.
Educators say early childhood education helps students flourish when they start school, and increases the chances they will stay in school and graduate. But many Kentucky children now don't qualify for preschool.
"Too many Kentucky children are getting off to a poor start in life; they start out behind and they never catch up," Beshear said. "Our goal is to make sure every Kentucky child has the opportunity to participate in ... early childhood education and development programs."
About 1,000 students participate in preschool classes in the Fayette County Public Schools. But district officials say some children are turned away because they don't meet current income guidelines.
Preschool eligibility is available to 4-year-oldswhose family income is at or below 150 percent of poverty level — about $22,500 for a family of four. It also is available to 3-and 4-year-olds if they have diagnosed special education needs.Beshear proposes to raise preschool eligibility to 160 percent of poverty in the budget now being considered by the Kentucky General Assembly, and ultimately expand it to 200 percent of poverty level by the time his term ends in four years.
Going to 160 percent would allow about 4,400 more Kentucky children into the program, the governor said Thursday. At 200 percent, more than 8,000 more children could qualify, he said.
Beshear cited Dixie's high state test scores as an example of the success preschool programs can help provide.
"This school knows how to get the job done," he said. "What we want to do is replicate what's happening here all across Kentucky."
Terry Tolan, executive director of the Kentucky Early Childhood Advisory Council, called early childhood education the "foundation for all learning later in life."
Tolan cited a Chicago study showing that children who participated in a half-day preschool program had a 29 percent higher graduation rate than other children; were 40 percent less likely to repeat grades; and were less likely to get into juvenile trouble.