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Pre-K Scholarships Prove Vital

Updated: 02/27/2014 10:58 PM
Created: 02/27/2014 10:54 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- In the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers increased funding for early childhood education by $40 million by creating new scholarships for kids to attend preschool.

“Research has shown that between the ages of birth and age five is when the most learning occurs,” said Amy Baskin, director of Early Childhood Family Education in Austin.

Baskin and other educators in Mower County said they're excited about the new opportunities created by roughly $130,000 in new pre-k scholarships.

"We've been able to add some classes, and we're going to add a summer class for some children that have had no previous experience prior to entering kindergarten,” Baskin said. “So it's going to be a tremendous impact in our community."

The impact will perhaps be amplified in Austin, where higher poverty rates and the high cost of child care force some families to make difficult decisions.

"We've known several people who had jobs as paraprofessionals in the school district, who decided, ‘Oh, we now have two kids, it doesn't really make a lot of sense to keep working as a paraprofessional when most of that money ends up going to daycare anyway,’" said Ryan Mayers, the father of four children, two of which attend school in Austin.

Mayers has one child currently in preschool, and said he knows the value of getting kids started early.

"The younger you can get kids learning, the better they will be in the end,” Mayers said. “They can actually tell when a kid comes into that kindergarten setting if they've had a good background in preschool, they know right away."

And with hundreds of kids across the state now able to attend preschool, experts said the scholarships not only make educational sense, but also financial sense.

"For every dollar we spend on early childhood, it's a $16 return on investment in the future with higher paying jobs and lower crime,” Baskin said. “So the research has been out there, it's just a matter of now finally starting to put some resources into it."

The scholarship program is giving more than $3 million to families in Mower, Olmsted, Rice and Winona counties.