Wyoming legislators agreed Tuesday to consider new funding sources for early childhood education programs and to study how to improve their coordination across the state.
Meeting in Casper, members of the Joint Education Interim Committee and the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee discussed early childhood education and development efforts with officials from four state departments and various professionals from across Wyoming.
Currently, early education efforts are distributed among the Department of Family Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Department of Workforce Services.
“One of the roadblocks that we run into is that we have a very decentralized system for early childhood in the state of Wyoming,” Brittany Ashby, executive director of the Wyoming Early Childhood State Advisory Council, told members of the interim committees.
She added that various agencies have their own mandates to fill. “There is no simple touch point for early childhood in the state of Wyoming currently.”
“There are a lot of great programs out there, and we want to make sure that if it is possible for them to collaborate or share resources that they’re doing that,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie said in an interview.
The greatest return from educational investment is from money spent on children before age 6, according to information the early childhood advisory council presented to the committees. Only 52 percent of Wyoming kindergartners in 2009 were prepared to begin school, and students who start behind usually stay behind, the report said.
Lori Morrow, director for Child Development Services of Fremont County and president of Child Development Services of Wyoming, also told the legislators of the value of expenditures on the education of young children. “If you’re going to focus on an age group to benefit the state of Wyoming regarding an internal investment,” Morrow said, “it is the birth-to-5 population.”
The committees agreed to propose legislation that would create a matching county endowment and a private-public partnership for early childhood programs.
The county endowment would be similar to previous legislation that provided state-funded matches for libraries based on counties’ own fundraising, Rep. Cathy Connolly, D- Laramie, said in an interview. The library endowment fostered local control and provided perpetual money with one-time funds, Rae Lynn Job of the John P. Ellbogen Foundation told legislators Tuesday.
The proposed public/private partnership funding would be modeled after legislation that established an Ellbogen Foundation program for teachers to earn certification from the nonprofit National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Businesses and other entities could support local programs with donations that would be matched by the state, Connolly said.
Early childhood education is the third of 13 priorities for the Joint Education Committee to consider this interim.