Missouri is at the halfway point on a plan that would expand preschool access to low-income children ages 3 to 5. The Missouri House of Representatives has passed today a proposal that would let families with children who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch choose whether to access a preschool program.

Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, is the bill sponsor.

“Ninety percent of the brain is developed before the age of five, so it’s really important that we get to start these children early. And really, these pre-K children that we’re starting early, we’re helping them with some of the experiences that they maybe are not able to experience in their home setting,” Shields told Missourinet.

The price tag of the proposal is between $17 million and $181 million. Shields said she thinks the cost would be around $55 million because the plan is voluntary for families.

Shields said the price to pay to expand preschool programs will be worth it in the long run.

“I think we have to afford it long term,” said Shields. “You know, studies show that we have less remediation, so we’re not spending the dollars in third, and fourth, fifth grade trying to catch children up on how to read. Twenty-year-long studies that have been done that show that children that have quality pre-K programs and get a good start on their education, their chances reduced by 70% of committing violent crimes later in life. It’s hard for individuals sometimes to see that the dollar that we spend today is $7 that we save later in life. Now, that’s kind of a hard pill for some to swallow.”

Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, is one who has a hard time swallowing that pill.

“We have a responsibility to balance our budget and we are constitutionally bound to provide public education funding that I think everybody in this room knows always needs work,” said Kelly.

The House passed the plan by a vote of 102-43. House Bill 1486 heads to the Senate for further review.

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