Forum highlights potential benefits of early education

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COLUMBIA - About 40 people filled the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library to discuss early childhood education and how it could possibly assist in closing the achievement gap for minority students. The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Columbia-Boone County, along with the Columbia Public Library, presented the forum featuring three early childhood experts.

Peggy Placier, the Education Committee Chair for the LWV of Columbia-Boone County, said Thursday's forum would help give the audience a heads up on what's happening at the national level regarding early childhood education.

Placier said the group decided to focus on the issue of early childhood since it was going to be one of the big policy topics of the upcoming political year. However, she said there are a few dilemmas when it comes to incorporating early childhood education into school districts.

"The dilemma we have is who should pay for it, how much should it be regulated or standardized, and should it be absorbed by the public schools the way kindergarten was at one time," Placier said. 

Panelist Dr. Kathy Thornburg said her greatest worries for both Missouri and the nation include the quality of programs, parents' support and education, and school district and community based programs.

Thornburg said she is hopeful about the federal government and the two large grants currently available: The preschool expansion or development grants and the EHS-Child Care partnership grants. Thronburg also said new rules likely to begin in 2015 for programs accepting child-care assistance give her hope.

This year, Missouri is one of eight states to submit an application for the preschool development grant. The grant would provide states with the funds to enhance and expand current preschool programs.

The three panelists at Thursday's forum included Dr. Kathy Thornburg, an MU Professor Emerita of Human Development and Family Studies, Dr. Stacey Preis, DESE Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Early and Extended Learning, and Belinda Masters, Director of the Parents as Teachers Program for Columbia Public Schools.