Most stories about early childhood education these days contain references to painful budget cuts that are forcing the elimination of programs. That’s why it was refreshing for EarlyStories to see that Alaska, a state that has not funded pre-kindergarten, is moving in a new direction.
An article in the Daily News Miner noted that state government will spend $2 million to bolster preschool programs in a number of communities.
A statewide education summit last November called for Alaska to begin offering preschool classes to families of every 3-, 4- and 5-year old in the state. Stimulus money means there can now be more preschools in areas with large numbers of low-income students.
It will be fascinating to see what kind of an impact these programs will have in rural Alaska. The state is one of 12 that has not offered any state-funded pre-kindergarten and has been under some pressure to increase fhe offerings.
School districts will have to develop programs “with a strong cultural component,” according to the article. “The state also wants districts to foster parental involvement and help parents who choose to home school their young children,” the story notes. Will a pre-school education change that, as children learn how to adjust socially, make friends and gain important early learning skills?
EarlyStories has been keeping a close eye on coverage of the stimulus package these days. There’s no shortage of news to follow; for example, Head Start and Early Head Start centers will soon get some of the $2.2 billion in promised funding to expand their services.
Yet in Alaska, one of just 11 states with no publicly funded pre-kindergarten, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin is poised to reject almost half of the federal stimulus money available. And this week, the once vice-presidential candidate got some unwanted attention about an early story of a different kind when Palin’s teenage daughter’s ex-boyfriend boasted that the governor likely knew the teenage couple — who have a baby — were sleeping together. The interview — to be aired on Monday — came during an appearance on the Tyra Banks Show, not usually a source for EarlyStories.
Just last month, Bristol Palin told Fox News the abstinence preached by her mother “is not realistic at all,” and said she wished she had waited 10 years before having a child.
So why bring all this up, when the presidential election is long over? For this reason: Alaska’s educators and advocacy community are pushing hard at the moment for the state to improve its early childhood offerings, and some were hoping that stimulus money might be used.
Alaska superintendents are lobbying legislators to reverse her decision to reject $172 million for Alaska’s schools. Much of the money was designated for poor schools and children with special needs. Some educators had also hoped it would be used to expand pre-kindergarten offerings for low-income children in Anchorage, along with those with special needs.
Palin — who called education “near and dear to my heart,” while on the stump with Sen. John McCain – did not attend a summit meeting in Alaska last November on early childhood education, and her budget proposal this year called for only a state-funded pilot program to serve some 500 pre-kindergarten children, nothing more. Alaska has also fared poorly in the way it pays teachers.
Palin also exposed a bit of hypocrisy when did not hold back her criticism of President Barack Obama for his gaffe in “Tonight with Jay Leno,’. Palin, the mother of a special needs baby who once pledged to look out for special needs children, let it be know that was “shocked,” by what she termed his “…degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people.”
For the record, Obama compared his bowling score of 120 with being “like Special Olympics,” and quickly apologized.
Both Democrats and Republicans have disagreed with her decision to turn down stimulus money in tough economic times, as have many Alaskans.
Some supporters have said they admire Palin’s courage in turning down money they fear could expand government. It will be interesting to keep an eye on what happens to Alaska’s education budget and to any of its limited pre-kindergarten programs as the stimulus story continues to unfold. Journalists should pay close attention, even as the more sensational story of Palin’s unmarried daughter, ex-boyfriend and illegitimate grandchild grab the spotlight.
An editorial in the Anchorage Daily News took Governor Sarah Palin to task for missing a statewide conference on the future of Alaska’s educational system last week. Palin, the former Republican candidate for Vice President, skipped the conference to speak in Miami about the future of the Republican Party. The editorial urged her to come home and start focusing on the needs of the state.
While Palin gave her talk about national issues, her home state was in the midst of charting the future of its educational system. For the record, Alaska is one of only 12 states that has no state-funded education system for pre-kindergarten students. One of the goals that came out of last week’s education summit included a committment to offer state-funded preschool to every three, four and five-year-old in Alaska. A plan to evaluate pre-school programs to make sure they are adequately preparing children for school also emerged as a goal during the conference Palin missed.
The goals are just a starting point and still need to be adopted, possibly refined and publicized. Some will also require funding that may not be available. It isn’t clear where Palin stands on any of them.
On the stump as a vice-presidential candidate, Palin, the mother of an infant with Down syndrome, made some proposals about the education of children with special needs. Without giving specifics, she also noted that education “is near and dear to my heart.”
With the National Enquirer pushing reporting on Sarah Palin’s private life to the limit, we here at EarlyStories prefer to stick to the issues. Thanks to the archives of Education Week, the paper of record in education, we can tell you that when Ms. Palin ran for governor against Tony Knowles she opposed any public spending on preschool. She said she thought private preschools were doing a good job. Alaska still does not have a program; it is one of 12 states that do not.