Smith’s Introduces Early Childhood Measure

It’s through the first round, State Senator Jeff Smith’s (D-St. Louis) measure that would increase access to early childhood programs at licensed child care facilities.

Smith’s legislation creating the Missouri Preschool Plus Grant Program, a pilot program within the Missouri Preschool Project, has gotten through its first hurdle on its way to become law.

This measure would benefit some of the state’s most stressed schools, said Smith’s office.

“These are critical years in a child’s life,” said Sen. Smith in a recent press release. “More neurological development occurs by the age of 4 than in the rest of a person’s life – and impoverished children are at great risk of not receiving the early brain stimulation that can never be recaptured. This bill will help our most vulnerable kids whose families could not otherwise access early childhood education.

Senate Bill 726 would create a five-star rating system, helping parents pick a child care center. About 1,250 children whose family income falls below 130 percent of the poverty level and live in school districts not accredited by the state Board of Education.

Districts that would benefit include St. Louis Public Schools in St. Louis City and Riverview Gardens and Wellston in St. Louis County.

The measure would also help the Wyaconda district in northeast Missouri.

The grant program, if created, would target children who are one to two years from starting kindergarten. It would be administered by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education along with the Coordinating Board of Early Childhood.

Children of active duty military parents would be given preference and at least 50 percent of the enrollment must be offered through non-sectarian community-based organizations.

Also, all learning centers participating in the program must adhere to current early childhood standards and must keep records of short-term and long-term data to measure the project’s success.

The grants will be available for three years and are renewable.

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