JEFFERSON CITY - Sitting in the House gallery on Tuesday, Jean Carnahan watched her husband's early childhood education initiative pass the Missouri House with overwhelming bipartisan support.
In the past few weeks the governor targeted child care in his state of the state address and even had the first lady testify in front of the legislature in favor of his proposal - her first appearance before a legislative committee.
Legislators Tuesday gave first round approval to a funding component of his proposal 107-35 after only a couple hours of debate. The bill would allocate grants to public schools that would provide pre-kindergarten services for three to five-year-olds.
"This is a big hurdle today," Mel Carnahan said. "We thought it was getting broad support. There's nothing like testing it. That's what happened today and that broad support came through."
Supporters cited early brain development research and the need for quality day care as they praised Carnahan's idea to educate three-year-olds in public schools to help solve the day care crisis.
Some legislators say children with good day care would be better off than those who are neglected.
"I want them (children) to be taken care of in a reputable place," said Rep. Carson Ross, R-Blue Springs. "We can't say lets ignore them and let the prison system take care of them later on."
While the bill did receive strong approval, some legislators still have concerns about overburdening the schools, competition with private day cares and equal education opportunities.
Opponents argued schools do not have adequate funding for existing programs and shouldn't be pressured into taking on more services.
"We have already made a commitment to kindergarten through 12," said Rep. Don Lograsso, R-Blue Springs. "It's important we assess them and put more money in those categories."
Not only would the bill give money go to schools, but 20 percent of the proposed funds would go to other child-care programs, such as parents as teachers and first step.
In addition, the House passed an amendment to allocate funds to parents who wish to care for their children at home.
Carnahan welcomed the amendment and said he believes it fits into his proposal.
The real debate, however, will be in the Senate, according to Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.
While Jacob said he is a supporter of early childhood education, he said he and other senators are uncomfortable with what early childhood education really means.
"I think that we ought to maybe try a few demonstration grants to private groups, not for profit agencies for a few years, measure the outcome and allow a laboratory of different plans and find out what works," Jacob said. "And then in the long run allow people duplicate what does work rather than say lets pass this bill and throw a bunch of money at it and here we go."
The bill faces one more vote in the House before it can go to the Senate.
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