Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, looking to unseat Republican Governor John Kasich as Governor of Ohio, unveiled his first major campaign proposal, “Pre-K All The Way.” After a May 14 email gave details of the planned policy involving “Pre-Kindergarten for every Ohio child,” FitzGerald spoke about his first campaign proposal at a news conference outside the Early Learning Center in Westerville, a Columbus Ohio Suburb.
The candidate for Ohio Governor spoke to a crowd that included parents, teachers, students and media, asserting that bringing universal pre-kindergarten to all 3 and 4 year-old children in Ohio will “prepare our students for a 21st century economy,” and that his plan will “help working families now – by reducing the cost of child care and ensuring Ohio’s children begin their education and their lives in safe, supportive environments.” FitzGerald also said, as noted on his campaign website, that he was proud to make the announcement because it “goes to the heart of what has hurt Ohio’s working families over the last four years. Rather than cutting funds from our schools to fund tax cuts for the wealthy, we will invest in our children to make sure every Ohio family has a fair shot at success.” The plan, as explained by Northeast Ohio Media Group, would also reduce class size and require all new pre-school teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree by 2018.
Several education and government leaders back Ed FitzGerald’s plan, including U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who stated “Universal pre-k is a no brainer. Aside from the obvious benefits of introducing our children to school at a younger age, this program will also save taxpayer money and prepare Ohio’s economy for long term success.” Mediatrackers quoted Ohio Education Association (OEA) President Becky Higgins as saying “Giving teachers the resources they need to create successful, life long learners is vital to an economically secure Ohio.” Ohio Federation of Teachers President, Melissa Cropper said that “Universal pre-K is the most important action that the state can take to close the opportunity gaps for children entering Kindergarten.”
Republicans quickly denounced the need for “Pre-K All The Way,” with Ohio GOP spokesman Chris Schrimpf being quoted as saying “This is yet another political stunt by a politically-ambitious empty suit.” He further said that “The only promises Ed FitzGerald would keep as governor would be the promise of higher taxes for Ohioans. With this new plan FitzGerald is now promising $2 billion in new spending, and no way to pay for it other than to raise taxes.” Schrimpf said nothing about the fact that the Republican-led State of Ohio spent over $22 million for preschool for 5,700 3 and 4-year-olds from low-income families in the 2012-13 school year. In spite of the GOP spending on educating pre-school children, it also paid out $600 million in subsidized payments to other child care programs through the Department of Jobs and Family Services, which include not only pre-school, but daycare settings for those who do not attend pre-school, as well as before and after school care for older children whose low-income parents work.
Even with the current pre-school funding touted by the Republican leaders of the state, less than 15% of 3 year-olds and under 20% of 4 year-olds attend Pre-K in Ohio. This is according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. State spending per child, for educating pre-school aged children, has decreased in the last four years, according to statistics. In 2013, under the current Republican leadership, Ohio only met 4 of the 10 benchmarks of the Pre-K “Quality Standards Checklist”
While Republicans make FitzGerald’s plan out to be a “political stunt,” Joe Rugola, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees stated “Providing universal pre-K to Ohio’s children should not be a partisan decision. It is in the best interest of Ohio’s teachers, parents, students, families, and workforce.” While many other government and educational leaders touted FitzGerald’s “Pre-K All The Way” plan as “no better investment,” that will make “an immeasurable difference in the future of all children in the state of Ohio,” Mediatrackers stated that “President Obama endorsed universal preschool in his 2013 State of the Union speech, though years of research have found that the federal Head Start program is not effective.” The information in that statement seems to have come from the conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation. Heritage Foundation claims that a study found that in some instances, Head Start “had harmful effects on children.”
Universal Pre-K programs are working in other states, with the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University finding that children enrolled in the universal Pre-K program in Tennessee “saw a 75% improvement in letter-word identification, 152% improvement in oral comprehension, 176% improvement in picture vocabulary and 63% improvement in quantitative concepts, when compared to children not enrolled in Pre-K.” Fitzgerald’s plan also cited statistics from a study in Oklahoma that indicated that children enrolled in Pre-K programs are 9 months ahead of peers in reading, 7 months ahead in writing and 5 months ahead in math, compared to peers not in a Pre-K program.
Whether the Heritage Foundation or other conservatives think that money could be better spent elsewhere, there is clear evidence that there is strong support for Ed FitzGerald’s plan “Pre-K All The Way.” While there have been many educators, government leaders and parents speak out in support of ensuring that every 3 and 4 year-old in the State of Ohio receives a pre-school education, no one, other than Republican leaders, has come forward on camera to speak in opposition of funding that ensures the education of every pre-school aged child in Ohio.