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Republicans caution against governor's child care proposal

January 27, 1998
By: Samantha Young
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Republican lawmakers are raising questions about Gov. Mel Carnahan's child care proposal to offer daycare services at Missouri's schools.

While Republicans insist child care is not a bi-partisan issue, they raise concerns that government-funded programs at public schools would be unfair competition for private day care centers.

Connie Cierpiot, R-Independence, said she would like to give all parents tax cuts regardless of where their children spend the first five years of their lives.

"The tax credit needs to be equally applied to everybody," Cierpiot said. "I don't want one parent who stays home to have to subsidize two working parents. The government should not step in on the side of parents who put children in day care."

Carnahan's proposal would allot grants to local schools that set up pre-kindergarten programs, either on-site or in cooperation with private day cares.

Some Republicans argue some private day cares could be run out of business.

Minority Floor Leader Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, said competition could arise among day care centers to meet state-set criteria for state money. Those who would not be give funding would be the smaller "mom and pop-run" facilities, Republicans said.

Sue Stepleton, president of the Missouri Child Care Association, said she is not concerned about schools taking partial responsibility for pre-kindergarten children. In fact, she said schools should step in to help private day cares meet the demand for quality day care in the state.

While the governor's plan is voluntary, Scott said he fears children would be forced to start attending school at three-years-old in the future.

"Kindergarten 30 years ago started as a half-day option," Scott said. "Parents are the ones who need to make that choice."

Missouri, however, does offer parents a school choice.

According to state statute, Missouri does not require parents to admit their children in school until they reach the age of seven. Even after children reach compliance age, parents have the option of sending them to a parochial, private or home school until the age of sixteen.

Most parents, however, are under the assumption kindergarten is mandatory because sending a five-year-old to school has become a tradition, said Mark Vanzandt, general counsel for the Elementary and Secondary Education Department.

Chris Sifford, the governor's spokesman, said comparing kindergarten to the early childhood development plan was not an apples-apples comparison.

"It's significantly different. Kids are younger and the learning is different at this age," Sifford said.

Sifford said Carnahan's plan would be voluntary and would remain so. But, he said parents should want to send their children to school early after parents see the positive effects.

"I think once people see the possibilities," Sifford said. "They will want to make an attempt to include their children in these programs."

The governor has requested $56 million from the legislature to fund his program.

Proponents are focusing on the developmental benefits of the governor's plan and the advantages early education could have on society as a whole.

"In Columbia, people are particularly aware of the need for early stimulation and the kind of day care that will do more than let kids just sit there," said Vicky Rayback Wilson, D-Columbia.