MADISON — Statewide 95 percent of public school districts that provide elementary education offer 4-year-old kindergarten (4K), an increase of five school districts from the previous school year.
“Wisconsin is approaching universal 4K, driven by communities that want to meet the early learning needs of children and their families,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.
For the 2014-15 school year, 391 public school districts are offering 4K to 47,844 students. About 100 of those programs use a community approach to 4K in which the school district, private child care centers, and Head Start centers collaborate to provide services. Benefits of the community approach to 4K are many and include the common effort to meet the emotional, educational, societal, and physical well-being of children in the community; fewer transitions for young children; and better information sharing among 4K teachers, early childhood staff members, and public schools. Wisconsin is considered a national leader in implementing 4K through the community approach.
Characteristics of quality 4K programs include highly trained teachers who have expertise in early childhood education, small class sizes, and a program that provides rich learning experiences and time for child-directed exploration. Public 4K programs follow the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, which are aligned with the academic standards students will encounter as they progress through school.
“A growing body of research shows that investing in high-quality 4K is good for kids and taxpayers. Whether through traditional programming or Wisconsin’s innovative community approach, 4K works,” Evers said.
Evidence on the short-term and long-term value of high quality pre-school programming for children, schools, and communities is strong. The national Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Cohort shows that students who attended a pre-kindergarten program scored higher on reading and math tests than children who had not been in a pre-kindergarten program. In Oklahoma, a state with voluntary 4K for all students, children who enrolled in 4K have significant academic gains across all income and racial groups. Participation in 4K was a more powerful predictor of children’s pre-reading and pre-writing scores than demographic variables such as race, family income, and mother’s education level. Long-term benefits focus on the often cited Perry Preschool Project, Chicago Parent Centers, and the Abecedarian Project. All show demonstrably positive effects of quality early learning programs on the future lives of young children. Overall, participants were less likely to need special education services, have lower retention rates, and were more likely to graduate from high school, gain employment, and avoid incarceration and dependency on public assistance. The estimated long-term payback of voluntary, universal preschool programs range from $2 to $4 for every dollar spent.
In addition to 4K in public schools and various community approach settings, many 4-year-olds attend state-supported 4K through independent charter and private voucher schools. All of the state’s independent charter schools in Racine and Milwaukee that provide elementary education offer 4K, enrolling 891 students. For the 2014-15 school year, 1,994 students are enrolled in 4K at 84 participating Milwaukee Parental Choice Program schools. The Racine Parental Choice Program has 120 students enrolled in seven schools. Eleven of the schools in the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program enrolled 31 students in 4K programs for the 2014-15 school year.