In keeping with a growing trend among state legislatures to offer pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) approved the Smart Start Scholarship Program as model legislation this May.
The model bill offers low- and middle-income families the option of sending their four- and five-year-olds to the public or private preschool or kindergarten program of their choice. On May 30, ALEC approved the Smart Start Scholarship Program as model legislation upon the recommendation of its Education Task Force, which includes state legislative leaders and the nation’s education policy experts. Leading the effort were the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, the Alliance for School Choice, and the Institute for Justice.
Lawmakers and policy experts alike recognize that in the coming years most state legislatures will consider funding full-day kindergarten and preschool programs for children up to age four, if they have not already done so. If a legislature favors that kind of initiative, the ALEC model legislation offers lawmakers an opportunity to achieve the goal with the most efficiency for taxpayers and the greatest satisfaction for parents, according to supporters.
“With the widespread trend toward early childhood education programs gaining momentum nationwide, this legislation will help state lawmakers offer a free-market approach to taxpayer-supported pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs,” said Wisconsin State Rep. Scott Jensen (R-Waukesha), who also serves as the Alliance for School Choice’s director of state projects.
Pre-K, Kindergarten Choices
Once passed into law, plans based on the Smart Start Scholarship Program model will be able to help parents send their children to the preschool or kindergarten program best suiting their needs–a full or half-day of kindergarten, for instance, or attending preschool on a full-time or flexible basis. Preschool programs in the model legislation are offered in a variety of formats to meet the needs of children and their families. While some parents may wish to send their four-year-old to a preschool for the full day every day, others will choose to send their child for just a few hours two or three times a week.
The point is to let parents, not the state, make the decision. The model allows scholarship amounts to be adjusted to reflect the time the child spends in the preschool program each week.
While every child would qualify for the Smart Start Scholarship Program, the model provides scholarships based on the costs of educating the student and his or her family’s income. A sliding scale based on the family’s eligibility for the federal government’s free- and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program is used to determine scholarship amounts. Families with incomes greater than the FRL standard would have their scholarships reduced to reflect their greater ability to contribute to their children’s education.
Schools participating in the program will have to show evidence of academic, financial, and administrative accountability to ensure their compliance with state and local health and safety codes (which already apply to private schools), demonstrate financial viability, and report to parents on the child’s academic progress. The legislation clarifies that participating private schools are autonomous, not agents of the state.
“The Smart Start Scholarship Program will offer families the opportunity to begin choosing the education that best fits their needs from the beginning of a child’s formal education,” explained Robert Enlow, executive director of the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation. “Parents will experience the many benefits of educational options with this first taste of school choice.”
ALEC is the nation’s largest nonpartisan, individual membership organization for state legislators who share a common commitment to individual liberty, limited government, and free markets. Members can choose to participate on one of ALEC’s nine task forces, where they can discuss public policy matters with some of the nation’s private-sector leaders. The task forces utilize state legislators’ experiences and the advice of national experts to create model free-market legislation that can be introduced in legislatures across the country.
Lori Drummer ([email protected]) is director of ALEC’s Education Task Force.
For more information …
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation addressing education issues is available online at http://www.alec.org and http://www.heartland.org/IssueSuiteTopic.cfm?issId=3&istId=214.