Making Pre-K A Priority

When it comes to my life, I try to have priorities. It isn’t always easy to get it all right all the time, but there are some basic things that I have to get right.

I have to work, and, I have to take care of my son, John Major. Those are both responsibilities that I am glad I have. That doesn’t make me unique at all. Just about every family in Arkansas who I know wants to take care of their family the same way. And having a public pre-K school in your town, or your county can make all the difference in the world.

It can mean the difference between having the time to take an extra daytime shift at work, or having to skip out altogether because there is no childcare. Or it can mean having a lot more of your paycheck left over, not having to pay for childcare.

But most importantly – first and foremost, and above all else – going to pre-K makes a world of difference for the children of this state.

Pre-K gives children access to a wealth of knowledge, from things as simple as beginning to learn their letters, to using a paintbrush, to becoming master of a busy playground.

Kids that go to pre-k have better foundations for learning — it’s a fact. The data is clear.

But it’s also clear on the faces of the kids too. They enjoy it, they have fun, and they learn more than we often realize.

It’s clear on the faces of the parents, just ask a family in a part of Arkansas that has a public pre-K program. It makes all the difference to have pre-K in your school district. It makes all the difference, for all the right reasons.

We do have some public pre-K programs in many parts of the state now. But all too often there simply isn’t enough room to let every child in. And that’s not okay. It’s a problem when there isn’t enough room in our public school programs to let all of Arkansas’s children in pre-K.

That’s not a problem fixed in the classroom or a problem fixed in a district. That’s a problem fixed in Little Rock, at the state Capitol.

About 10 years ago Arkansas took a big step, under Democratic Governor Mike Beebe we made a big investment in public pre-K in Arkansas. It was a good start, but we have failed to build on it. Instead we have started draining our state’s revenue, we have started spending money on all sorts of things.

But even though we know that public pre-K is good, and that all can benefit from it, pre-K hardly exists in huge portions of Arkansas. Rural Arkansas, as it too often seems to be, gets the shortest end of the stick.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to keep accepting this raw deal.
It’s never too late to make better choices, to have priorities.

Arkansas can decide to make public pre-K funding a priority. All of us who elect state representatives and state senators to go to the state Capitol in Little Rock, can make it a priority.

My son John Major is fortunate, we have in a good pre-K program. But what good will it be, if he grows up in a world where kids his age in the county next door, or two towns over, don’t have the same opportunities?

All of Arkansas deserves the opportunity to succeed, none of Arkansas should be left out, and without public pre-K. I know where my priorities are, and I know we’ll get there together.

I’m Michael John Gray, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.