Editorials

Editorial: Targeting youngest adds up for schools

Marianne Shell, a teacher at Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center, leads a literacy exercise for pre-kindergarten students Oct. 14, 2015.
Marianne Shell, a teacher at Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center, leads a literacy exercise for pre-kindergarten students Oct. 14, 2015. rlurye@islandpacket.com

Beaufort County has paid dearly for the Early Childhood Champions of Children Award the school district received last week.

The school district was recognized for going the extra mile -- and spending many extra dollars -- to prepare the youngest and most vulnerable children in the county for kindergarten.

The private Institute for School Success cited the district for bringing formal education to more 4-year-olds.

It's the right thing to do, despite conflicting studies on the long-term positive impact of pre-kindergarten education.

The Beaufort County School District is now spending $4.7 million on its pre-K program and plans to do much more. The district is struggling to provide a place for all 4-year-olds who are deemed at risk of entering school with a poor educational background. The district has expanded the 4-year-old program from half-day to full-day.

It has added classrooms. It has reduced the waiting list for these slots from about 100 in recent years to about 25 now. It hopes to soon offer pre-K to all students, regardless of educational risk factors.

The state as a whole has seen a shift in emphasis toward early childhood education. And the state should do more to help the Beaufort County School District pay for it. State funding is limited because the county is not statistically as poor as others. But pockets of wealth in the county skew its numbers to enable the state to do less for the many poor children in Beaufort County.

Beaufort County, like everyone else, needs to document what works and what does not work in the public pre-K program.

The county is looking at achievement by third-graders as a measuring stick. It hopes that starting school earlier in life will mean all students can be proficient in math and language arts by the third grade. At one time, the school district called the third grade a gate through which no student would advance without mastering basic skills. The public needs to see this happen.

Former school board chairman Bill Evans was a strong proponent of spending more on students earlier in the process. So is Superintendent Jeff Moss.

The recent award is deserved because the district has for many years gone well above the norm for early childhood education. So have local nonprofits.

Now the results that would seem to be obvious must be proven.

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