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State Reading Goal for Children will Require Early Start

TOPEKA (KASB) – The Kansas Legislature’s goal of having all students reading at grade level or better by third-grade means that the state needs to improve its programs for children before they enter kindergarten, according to a report released this week by the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund.

“As we collectively set our sights to achieve grade-level literacy in Kansas, it is critical to understand the opportunities lost by waiting to begin when children arrive in kindergarten,” the report states. “Research consistently demonstrates that there are no better investments in educational outcomes than starting in early childhood.”

During the 2022 legislative session, legislators approved and Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law a school finance bill that included a provision that says students must attain proficiency in reading by third-grade or risk falling behind throughout their academic career.

The Kansas Children’s Cabinet, which oversees programs funded from the tobacco litigation agreement and other sources, has issued a blueprint to promote early childhood literacy.

Its recommendations include:

  • Approximately $50 million in new state spending on early childhood care and education.
  • Meeting the statutory requirement to fund 92 percent of excess costs for special education. The State Board of Education has approved a five-year plan, costing $77 million each year, to reach that level of special ed funding.
  • Reduce eligibility barriers and administrative hurdles so that more families can access cash and food assistance programs.

The report also contains some specific recommendations for local school districts to improve early learning and the transition into kindergarten:

  • Participate in Kansans Can Star Recognition Program, which includes evaluation of kindergarten readiness efforts.
  • Use the Kansas Early Childhood Advisory Council’s Kindergarten Transitions Toolkit to support intentional, active community planning for transitions to kindergarten.
  • Prioritize quality preschool opportunities for children, as well as home visiting, family engagement, and educational programming for families, either through in-house programs or in partnership with local private providers.

In addition, for businesses, the Cabinet recommended adopting family-friendly workplace policies, such as paid parental leave and flexible work schedules.

The report notes that about 90 percent of brain development occurs by 5-years-old. Investing in early childhood education will give children a better chance of mastering reading, math and social-emotional skills.

By investing in early learning, healthy development and strong families, Kansas “can become the best place in the country to raise a family,” while also reducing costs on foster care and incarceration, the report said.

“We know what it takes to get there, and the fact is, it’s not that expensive. We just need to be willing to commit to investing in the opportunities before us,” the report concludes.

Here is a link to the full report.

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