Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, spent Monday night listening to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debate what’s best for the country.
She was disappointed that early childhood education never came up.
But it should have, she said Tuesday, because “early childhood education is important economically, socially for the entire country. Things like this have to be funded for the public good, the national good.”
Weingarten, in Kansas City for a federation meeting, stopped by the Kansas City Public Schools’ Woodland Early Learning Community School for a tour.
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“I was bowled over by it,” Weingarten said of the school at 711 Woodland Ave. “Here you have this beautiful building that has the grandness of the old buildings that signals that school is important. And then Kansas City retrofitted the building to insure that every child 3 and 4 years of age who wants a head start, can have it.”
Only Kansas City and New York City, she said, are funding all-day public early childhood education for all children.
Recently on his first day on the job, Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell was at Woodland to announce a seven-hour pre-kindergarten day at no cost for 1,100 Kansas City children. It’s a program made possible because of Missouri legislation that allows the district to collect per-pupil state funding for some pre-K students, combined with federal Head Start dollars and local aid.
The program exists in two schools — Woodland and Richardson Early Learning — and may grow into a third next year.
Weingarten called Woodland Early Learning “the potential and promise of public education.”
Weingarten said she was happy to know “that a city would say to all of its kids ‘we know that leveling the playing field and having early childhood education and finding ways to create positive learning environments ... is really important so we are going to make sure that we fund it.’ ”
She said, “The issue confronting American education is that half the kids in public education are poor. The last recession put a lot of kids in poverty.”
All-day pre-kindergarten, Weingarten said, starts children off ready for kindergarten and sets them up to graduate from high school, for post secondary education and a path out of poverty.
A study published by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute said investment in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs generates billions of dollars in economic and other benefits for the federal and state governments.
While Weingarten didn’t hear candidates talking about early childhood education at Monday night’s debate, she said, both candidates do have an education platform.
They are, she said, “as different as day and night.” One candidate, she said, “envisions doing something like what we have here at Woodland for the entire country, and another candidate has a child-care proposal that disproportionately helps the wealthy.”
She said: “Clinton has spent her entire political life fighting for education for families and putting early childhood education on the map. Donald Trump doesn’t even talk about it, and when he talks about education he talks about taking money away from it.”
No so, said Todd Abrajano, spokesman for Trump’s campaign in Missouri, who said: “The truth is Mr. Trump’s plan helps millions of hard-working American families especially at the lower end of the income scale by providing relief for every working and middle-income earner with child-care expenses.”