It’s time to ask the Governor of Wyoming whether he has a children and families agenda. The Governor’s decision to turn down nearly 28 million dollars to provide quality pre-school programs comes on the heels of other policy choices that don’t bode well for children and families.
In rejecting the funds, Mead said, “Wyoming can do this ourselves.” I suppose he’s right. Wyoming can indeed afford to do this but saying we can and doing it are far different things. Where’s the plan? Where’s the leadership?
The last administration, under Dave Freudenthal, had any number of people who understood how to put the interests of children and families first. They knew why it was important not only to child development but to economic development. They could make the connections because they took the time to read the research behind early childhood development and the importance of quality pre-school experiences.
This one did not. This administration heard somewhere on Fox News that accepting federal grants didn’t meet the conservative’s litmus test. Yet they aren’t willing to say no to all federal funds.
Mead himself stands in line for federal agricultural subsidies so taking federal funds is not really an issue for him. He wasn’t hesitant to ask for federal dollars for disaster aid following last spring’s flooding. But money for children and families? Now he has a problem.
Mead supported the doctrinaire position taken by the Wyoming House of Representatives rejecting 38 million dollars for families experiencing long-term unemployment in this recession. That was 38 million dollars families would have put directly into local economies, spending the money with landlords, grocers, children’s clothing stores and service providers. But Mead and like-minded legislators, several of whom were also in that same ag subsidy trough, saw it as a Tea Party teaching moment.
And then came last week when Governor Mead announced his administration wouldn’t request $27.8 made available by the Obama administration to help Wyoming’s preschool children prepare for school. Word on the street is he acquiesced to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and her Tea Party-esque idea of what’s right in a world that doesn’t put children first.
This is not the first occasion when Mead had the opportunity to put children first and failed. His administration has a track record of selling out children beginning with the decision to abdicate to judges on juvenile reform. Yet this decision is an especially troubling omen for a Governor with more than three years left in his term.
Supporting pre-school programs is a no-brainer. It’s not only good politics. It’s even better public policy especially in a state struggling to improve academic success, reduce dropout rates and respond to the challenges of youthful delinquent and risky behaviors.
Anyone who knows anything about child development understands the role of pre-school education. Research shows as much as one-half of the achievement gap exists by the time children begin first grade. A child who begins with a competitive deficit soon learns to dislike school. Ever wonder why Wyoming’s dropout rate is so high. Duh?
High-quality pre-K programs improve children’s learning and help narrow the achievement gap. Studies demonstrate high-quality early childhood programs have positive impacts on youngsters’ learning and life outcomes.
One federal reserve bank study concluded that of all the strategies states use to attract business, e.g. cheap land, tax breaks, etc., the most effective is the availability of high quality pre-school programs. A state that puts children and families first is attractive to business.
But hey, the Governor says Wyoming doesn’t need the stinkin’ feds stinkin’ money. He says we can do it on our own. Really? Where’s that beef? We can believe it when at least one of three things happen: (1) he holds a press conference to announce his own adequately funded pre-school plan; (2) he turns down those agricultural subsidies; or (3) pigs fly!