All-day kindergarten equals all-day learning


WE'VE GOT OUR priorities skewed.

Ninety percent of the money for education in this country gets spent teaching kids older than 4. Yet 90 percent of a child's brain development takes place before age 5. That's why it's so important that Gov. Parris N. Glendening accept the State Board of Education's recommendation that Maryland spend $21 million next year to begin phasing in all-day kindergarten in every school.

One study shows that for every $1 spent on early childhood programs, the government reduces costs by $7 for special education, remedial teaching in later years and social services. That study found early childhood programs helped at-risk, African-American kids do better in school, adjust better socially and lead healthier lives. Another study found children with early education opportunities were two-and-a-half times more likely to go to college.

It makes sense. The time to give kids a solid grounding in basic skills is when they are very young.

Besides, all-day kindergarten is essential for working parents. It provides a learning environment in which children sustain their developmental gains, in contrast to many day-care arrangements parents are forced into by half-day kindergarten. Those extra hours in school are especially helpful for kids with special needs and those who require extra time to learn.

But this is only part of the answer. The state embarked this year on creating a network of centers for preschoolers where the emphasis is on education readiness. Another component is upgrading the training of day-care providers so they're better able to emphasize the learning experience.

The governor is the linchpin. He became a supporter of early childhood programs earlier this year, but he reduced the amount of aid requested. Go figure.

This time, he must do better.

Maryland would take an important step forward if the governor made all-day kindergarten a reality. A package on early childhood education should be part of Mr. Glendening's next budget. For the self-styled "education governor," it should be a no-brainer.

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