Studies have shown that students who went to preschool have higher rates of achievement later in school. It's also believed that preschool has a positive effect on children’s social and emotional development.
But the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has identified several areas of the state where families don’t have access to quality preschools. The state has applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Education to expand the state’s program in these high-need areas. Missouri is competing with 16 other states for the Preschool Development grant, which will be awarded by the end of December.
KBIA’s Hope Kirwan sat down with Stacey Preis, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Early and Extended Learning, to talk about Missouri’s need to expand preschool education.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.
Why does Missouri need this grant?
There is quite a bit of need for preschool. This grant asked us to identify high-needs communities in Missouri and we found several places where there just wasn't the supply of high-quality preschool to meet the demand for children.
Where are these high-need communities in Missouri and how many children do you hope to assist in these areas?
Well we know that there are families with need in every community obviously, but there are concentrated areas of need in both of the major urban areas, in Kansas City and St. Louis, and then in the southeast corner of Missouri in the bootheel region, that's where the majority of our high-needs communities we identified are. If we're able to reach all of the children that we have estimated that there is a need to be served, it would be just under 2,000.
In comparison, how many children are enrolled in Missouri preschools right now?
Well that was the thing that was kind of tricky to estimate. I mean, we know how many children that we serve in the Missouri preschool program but for other programs like Head Start and private providers, you know we have to base our estimates on lots of different things because we just don't have complete data on what the level of delivery is.
Is the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education hopeful they will receive this grant?
We feel pretty good about it. We think we put together a very strong application. We had a lot of support from state agencies that we work with from Head Start from private providers, business communities, civic organizations, I mean we just have lots and lots of good input and letters of support and we have some good ideas, like I said we will be building on the Missouri Preschool Program, but we also had some ideas come out of this work for this grant application that will help us make that program even stronger, so we feel pretty good about it.
Why is it important that we're making sure all kids have an opportunity to go to preschool?
Kids just come into school in Kindergarten at all different levels. Some of them are at the point where they are reading and others are still learning the levels of the alphabet and there is just a huge disadvantage to those children that haven't been exposed to literacy opportunities and just the chance to develop during those really crucial formative years. We don't want to see children start off behind from the beginning so it gives them a good opportunity to start on par with their peers and hopefully continue that way throughout school.