Impact of pre-kindergarten concerning

By Gay G. Kernan, Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: The Clovis News Journal asked area lawmakers to offer brief commentary on a subject of their choice as they head back to Santa Fe this week for a 60-day legislative session.

The pre-kindergarten initiative presented by the governor and lieutenant governor has been trumpeted as a solution to many of the problems we face as a state: truancy, low graduation rates and delinquency, for example.

As an educator, it is tempting to believe that just by adding an additional grade level to our education system we will correct all the problems our schools and students face. Before moving ahead, I have many questions that I hope will be addressed.

I have visited pre-kindergarten classrooms in Clovis, Portales, and Carlsbad. I am currently the assistance coordinator for the Early Reading First Program in Hobbs.
I have listened to presentations at the Legislative Education Study Committee and attended a briefing in Albuquerque last fall where many national leaders in early childhood education were presenters.

I don’t object to providing a quality educational experience for 4-year-olds. The concerns I have are centered on governance, transportation, availability of teachers and the effect of this initiative on our private childcare providers.

The Legislature has recently mandated minimum salaries for teachers and is going to propose the same for educational assistants and principals. We must completely fund programs already in place before adding additional programs.

In the proposed cost of the pre-K initiative, no mention is made of facilities. The implementation of full-day kindergarten has made vacant space non-existent.
Transportation of children will add to the cost.

I am especially concerned about the Early Childhood Community Councils that will govern the program. We have many outstanding private centers that could sustain a substantial loss of revenue. The initiative requires that all teachers of 4-year-olds have a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education. Those teachers are just not available.

Do I believe current programs targeting children at risk meet the needs of those children and successfully prepare them for kindergarten? Absolutely! To expand without careful consideration of all the issues would be a disservice to school districts, which are struggling to meet the financial challenges we have placed on them.

Gay G. Kernan is a Republican senator from Hobbs. Contact her at 392-2327 or 397-2536 or by e-mail:ggkern@valornet.com