Thousands of Missouri families remain on a wait list to get help with their early childhood development needs. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is asking state leaders for a nearly $6.3 billion budget next fiscal year – including a $5 million funding increase to help close the waiting list gap. The state aid boost would be used by the Parents as Teachers organization to provide services to high need families seeking help with the successful educational outcomes of their children.
According to department Chief Operating Officer Shari LePage, the increase request would serve 1,529 high need familes and 4,016 non-high need families on the wait list for services.
State funding for the program has taken a plunge over the years – from $31 million in 2010 to the current fiscal year’s $18 million. During Tuesday’s State Board of Education meeting in Jefferson City, member Mike Jones says the state needs to make the future of Missouri’s young children a priority.
“As we’ve learned how important early childhood is on one hand, we’ve cut the funding for it on the other hand,” Jones says.
President Charlie Shields, a former Republican State Senator, backs the state aid increase.
“I think you will see a robust discussion of early childhood education in the Legislature,” Shields says. “I think it’s a high priority for the governor. I think it’s a high priority for many legislators.”
Member Victor Lenz followed by saying it’s a high priority for the board and education department.
In 1984, former Republican Governor Kit Bond launched the Parents as Teachers program statewide and later helped to expand it into a national and international platform. Bond has referred to the initiative as his greatest accomplishment during his years in the governor’s mansion.
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