My granddaughter Lennon just turned 3. Each follicle in her unruly ginger hair seems intent upon pursuing a unique destiny. Lennon, likewise, is perpetual motion — forever galloping or running.
When paused, her “Why?” chromosome — DNA aside — abounds.
During a summer drive to the Twin Cities, Linda and I endlessly answered questions about cows — a source of constant fascination, but fear when encountered on her Grandma Nancy’s farm.
She just started a combination of preschool (three hours) and day care. It’s $680 monthly — affordable for her parents, but not low-income Iowans.
According to a statewide United Way survey, the average cost of child care for a family of four with a toddler and infant is $1,039 monthly — twice the cost of their housing.
The Des Moines Register reported in 2016 that 14,000 Iowa children entered kindergarten without attending preschool. The number of school districts with “voluntary preschool” declined by seven.
That same year a National Institute for Early Education Research press release was headlined, “Iowa Standing Still While Other States Progress.”
Meanwhile, in a “You-gotta-be-kidding-me” ranking, Alabama is now No. 1 in preschool education (if not football), after ranking No. 42 in public education.
If that seems incongruous, conservatives led the charge, spurred by a business community intent on improving economic conditions, according to a Mother Jones report.
“Why?” Lennon might ask.
Because James Heckman, a Nobel Prize recipient in economics, found states investing in quality early childhood education get a 13 percent return on investment from more productive employees, while spending less on remedial education, health care and criminal justice.
That belied a Vanderbilt University report that preschoolers lost any education advantage by third grade. Republicans, including former House Speaker Paul Ryan, cited that as gospel.
The Trump administration wanted to eliminate the $230 million Preschool Development Grants Program, never mind that Europe and China are eating our preschool lunch.
The Vanderbilt study relied on an over-enrolled, underfunded Tennessee system lacking guidelines.
Alabama, which adheres to all 10 National Institute for Early Education Research guidelines, modeled its program on preschoolers’ inherent curiosity,
letting them learn by doing with a 10-1 ratio of children to enthusiastic teachers intent on boosting young brains.
The human brain grows from about a quarter of adult size at birth to 90 percent by age six. Feeding it more knowledge and skills is common sense.
By third grade, according to a 2016 Alabama study, preschool alums’ math and reading skills were significantly better than their classmates. Low-income children had double-digit improvements.
African-Americans were 16 percent higher in math and 20 percent in reading.
Iowa Republican lawmakers — forever fixated on taxes — would do well to address preschool education.