Wisconsin budget proposal includes opportunity for 4K kindergarten

COVID-19 has not only challenged schools, but it has also highlighted inequalities. With a decline in 4K and 5K enrollment, a proposal from the Department of Public Instruction aims to meet the funding needs of schools while helping children achieve high-quality developmental experiences at an early age.

For many students, their academic journey begins with a strong foundation. 

"We have evidence that high-quality 4K can really reduce achievement gaps that are already present when kids enter kindergarten," Assistant State Superintendent Sheila Briggs said.

With a focus grounded in equity, Briggs said State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor submitted a budget that includes the opportunity for full-day 4-year-old kindergarten. 

"Early childhood has always been a top priority for our state superintendent," said Briggs.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's request is part of the ask of nearly $850 million in new general aid to schools in the 2021-23 biennial budget.

"It’s an investment," Briggs said. "I think is well worth money spent. We know that some of the data around early childhood is the best return on early investment. We can either pay now and make sure our children are getting the support they need early on so they can be successful in life, or we end up paying for it on the other end with programs that we have to intervene, have to do to get kids caught up, or outcomes from kids of what we don’t want."

While the possible extension could help parents financially, DPI officials said they're also aware of the critical role of the child care community and they want to make sure there are no unintended consequences. 

"We are going to continue to be committed to working with the child care community to make sure that we have good, high-quality, wrap-around support for our kids, whether they are in part-day 4K or full-day 4K — they are somewhere," Briggs said. 

It's an effort to strengthen early childhood programs throughout the state. 

The budget submitted also provided for resources, services and funding for priorities like mental health support, special education and libraries.