JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan proposed Friday a program to offer local schools optional grants to teach pre-kindergarten age children.
"Now we have scientific proof that the direction the lives of our children will take is basically shaped by their experiences in the first five years of their lives," he said. "Their experiences determine how their brains are wired. And connections that are not used wither away."
Carnahan announced his $56 million proposal to finance school-linked day care, improve child care providers' training and expand early childhood programs to help parents find affordable, quality day care.
Now, 65 percent of working mothers with children under the age of six are looking for out of home day care and that could increase into the seventies as more parents go into the work force under the new welfare changes, said Margaret Franklin of the state Health Department
Under Carnahan's plan, local schools could apply for state grants to establish day care for pre-kindergarten children. The child care facilities, however, would not necessarily be located on school grounds and would be optional.
"Local schools will have maximum flexibility," Carnahan said. "They will be able to offer these services on-site, at leased space, or by contracting with another child care facility."
While schools would receive state funding, Carnahan said he expects parents to pay for the child care as they are paying for it now. Parents who choose to admit their child to a school-linked day care facility, however, could receive state money based on a sliding scale, which would be determined by their income.
For those parents with children under three-years-old, Carnahan proposes to improve the quality of private day care facilities by offering scholarships to day care providers for further training.
The idea is the more day care workers are trained, the higher the quality of care and the more facilities would qualify for state reimbursements. Consequently, salaries would increase and the high turnover rate in the child care profession would fall.
Accredited day care centers are reimbursed by the state under best child care facilities. Carnahan said he plans to increase reimbursements by 20 percent.
"This incentive will encourage more centers to improve their quality to become accredited," he said. "The result will be better child care for more Missourians."
Finally, the governor said developmental screening for all Missouri children under the age of two would be offered under the Parents as Teachers Program.
"Since recent brain research confirms the early detection and treatment of delays and problems are critical to proper child development, we must make identifying those conditions a priority before it is too late to correct them," Carnahan said.
The governor formed his proposal based on recommendations by the Commission on Early Childhood Care and Education, which he appointed last May. Former State Sen. Joe Moseley of Columbia chaired the commission, which met for six months.
Moseley said the school-linked day care would not only benefit the children, but the schools.
"Children would come to school better able to learn," Moseley said."It would make the work of the schools much easier starting education at birth."
Moseley said two of the commissions main concerns were improving the quality and the accessibility of day care. He said the governor's proposal improves the quality of day care providers, and it increases the amount of state money for early education programs, such as Parents as Teachers and First Steps.
About $20 million of Carnahan's proposal would be paid for by riverboat gambling admission fees, which would go into an Early Childhood Care and Education Fund.
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