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Daycare at Schools Proposed

January 13, 1998
By: Samantha Young
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Working parents could look to their local schools for day care services under a budget proposal the governor is expected to unveil Friday.

Although the details have not been released, the governor's Commission on Early Childhood Care and Education, appointed in May, will reveal its recommendations regarding the day care crisis in Missouri.

Gov. Mel Carnahan's $56 million plan will focus on legislative and budget proposals that include school-linked day care and expanding existing state programs, such as First Step, said Chris Sifford, the governor's spokesman.

The idea of school-run facilities for pre-kindergarten children, however, has several legislators worried about giving the public schools more responsibility.

"I worry sometimes we may be overburdening schools in addition to education," said Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. "There are a lot of things besides education the schools do."

Senate Republican Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, agreed.

"The last thing I want to do is make schools responsible for our day care crisis," he said "We've already asked them to go beyond the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic skills. Now we ask them to teach driver's ed, provide counseling, sex education and peer facilities. I don't want to saddle the schools and make them the baby sitters for the state."

Carnahan's proposal, however, would be optional for districts, and schools could contract private day care centers to run the educational programs.

"I think that it's obvious that through the public school system, we can focus on the early education aspect and early child development," Sifford said.

But Graham questions whether the proposal would change the school system.

"In effect are we creating minus-one and zero grades," Graham said. "Are we creating a new level of education? There are a lot of things to consider."

In the Senate, Roseann Bentley, R-Springfield, has her own day care plan that would allocate state funds to school districts for prekindergarten programs in the schools.

Her bill would provide $1,000 state funding per pre-school student per year reimbursement to the schools.

Bentley said her bill would relieve the pressures on day care, which have increased because of last year's welfare reform and more women with children in the work force.

She also stressed the recent research on brain development of young children and the advantages of early childhood learning in public schools.

But, Ehlmann is one of the skeptics who question the impact of early childhood development.

"I would like to see more scientific evidence that early intervention makes a difference in the long run of a child's life."