State leaders, experts and advocates for early childhood met in Wichita in early October for a symposium convened by Governor Laura Kelly and a forum conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The conclusions found at that gathering are not surprising.

“We’re going to have to raise the educational levels of our workforce in the state,” said Mark Tallman, Vice President for Advocacy with the Kansas Association of School Boards. “A lot of that goes back to the preparation they get in K-12 education. We also know that kids start school at really different levels of readiness. Those differences persist for years, they’re what we call the achievement gap.”

Lower income students, students with disabilities, English Language Learners and others lag behind their non-lower-income peers in every educational measurement.

“When you’re ready for kindergarten, we have a system there for you for the next 13 years designed to provide education and support the child and help the family,” said Tallman. “Before that, parents are very much on their own. What we find as a result is that some kids are able to stay with their parents. They’ve got a parent who can raise them or family and do fine, but more and more instances, we have parents that are working. We have parents who need a quality place to put their child and also one where they can develop. It is difficult for many families to find that.”

Child care shortages are a drag on business.

“The problem is, for so many families, either they cannot afford to put their kids in a program, because of the expense and there is much less support for those families or there isn’t even that opportunity in their community,” said Tallman. “Something we heard all over the state from people trying to do economic development, business development in their town, is saying, we can’t get workers to move
here, because there is no childcare. They literally do not have enough slots.”

Despite the importance of preschool years, parents are provided the least support for educating their children at the time they need the most help.