Fitting with “every child, every day,” I am a strong believer in a healthy start for all kids by offering universal all day/every day 4K and optional 3K programming. All kids need to have the same strong start to schooling with literacy and math exposure, behavior interventions, and support for kids with special needs, including mental health needs. I also strongly believe that early intervention, and investing in children early will help close the achievement and opportunity gaps in Wisconsin. I also know that investing in our kids will help with graduation, long term educational outcomes, health outcomes, and help end the school to prison pipeline for many of our black and brown children, and children who grow up in poverty.
We must make Wisconsin a national leader in early childhood education again. Not that long ago, as a young mom, I searched for preschool programming for my two children who were 19 months apart at a rate that I could afford. What a near-impossible quest. Because I could not afford it, either I had to choose which child got to go to a high-quality program, I had to settle for something subpar so they both could attend, or I had to keep them home and educate them myself until they were eligible for full-day programs. This is not something that parents should have to choose because they live far away from a good program, or because they cannot afford a high-quality program.
And as we’ve learned in this pandemic, it’s often the mom who leaves the workforce to care for young children or to stay home and educate them, therefore exiting the workforce and having long-term consequences for their family’s economic future. It’s not just about mothers, though, as it is proven that high-quality early childhood education is critical to lifelong successes. Every school district must have high-quality programming and they need to offer it every day, because otherwise it becomes uneven. Parents need to feel confident that if they want to send their child to a program, they can also return to the workforce if they so desire. We have so much research on what works, yet we will not do any of it because of the upfront cost. Instead, we put that responsibility on parents, and what you find is that those who can afford it or have access to it take advantage of it, setting up their children for lifetime success. However, for those who cannot afford or access it, their children head down a road of greater inequity—a loss for all of us. Every parent wants the best for their child. Parents should not have to choose between paying a mortgage and putting their child in daycare or private preschool. If all kids had access to early intervention services and strong early childhood programs, can you imagine what their elementary experience would be like? Can you imagine a world where all children received a strong start complete with early interventions for speech, language, reading, and other learning needs? Can you imagine the possibilities for our economic future when we set all kids on the path to graduating from high school career- and college-ready? If they had a strong early childhood program that set them up for a lifetime of success? I am a firm believer that we need to invest in our kids in the beginning of their lives rather than pay for social services or corrections when they are adults.
Early childhood programming is a proven program that lifts all children up and benefits our entire state—and economy—for a lifetime. In Pecatonica, I started after-school programs, a full-day summer program, and a full-day, every day 4K program for this explicit purpose. We needed to ensure our kids were receiving early intervention, and we did so, even if it meant a small loss in revenue that was not reimbursed by the state. Our school board shared my belief that it was best for kids. I want to bring these programs to all public schools in the state, and in a time of COVID-19 recovery, these programs will be needed now more than ever before.