FRANKFORT — Early childhood development programs and school readiness screenings deserve credit for at least some of the progress made in public education in Kentucky lately, state officials told a legislative committee Monday.
The screenings, currently given to children entering kindergarten in various Kentucky school districts, are often the first indicator of educational success, state Early Childhood Advisory Council member Brigitte Ramsey told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.
“That would be the first point in time where we know how many children are coming to school prepared to be successful…and how many are not,” Ramsey said in reply to a question from committee co-chair Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, who asked about the role tobacco settlement-funded early childhood programs play in later educational success.
All school districts in Kentucky will conduct school readiness screenings for children entering kindergarten beginning in the 2013-14 school year, according to the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Executive Director Terry Tolan. The screenings will ultimately help officials determine which children will be reading on grade level by third grade, she said.
Those who are reading on level by third grade are most likely to graduate from high school and go on to college and/or career success, she said.
“I fully agree that early childhood development is one of the best things we could focus on,” committee co-chair Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said. “If we don’t catch kids by the time they’re in the third grade anyway, they’re behind in their peer group and it’s tough for them to graduate.”
School readiness screening promotion is only part of the state’s investment in early childhood development since early childhood began receiving 25 percent of Kentucky’s share of a 1998 multi-billion-dollar national master tobacco settlement. Other funding areas include, but are not limited to, quality ratings of childcare providers, child care subsidies, immunizations, substance abuse programs for pregnant mothers, in-home visits for young families, and early childhood oral health programs.
The HANDS (Health Access Nurturing Development Services) program—the in-home visitation program for new and expectant parents—is considered a national model for support to families with young children, said Tolan, who added that a write-up of the program appeared in Time magazine. The voluntary program is offered during pregnancy or any time before a child reaches three months of age to all first-time mothers and/or fathers living in Kentucky.
Scholarships for those who pursue training or college degrees in early childhood development in Kentucky are another investment the state is making, Tolan said. In fiscal year 2012 scholarships for early childhood educators helped 274 educators earn state early childhood credentials and 187 earn national credentials, she said. They also helped 82 students to earn an associate’s degree and eight students earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
“You can see from those…surprisingly large numbers that we are really encouraging early childhood educators to get the education they need in order to be effective,” Tolan said.
According to Ramsey, the state was able to allocate $25 million of the state’s tobacco settlement dollars to early childhood programs in the last year.