Skimping on Parents as Teachers

Looked at side-by-side, two recent news story create a contradictory picture that underscores the ironic and misguided path educational funding in Missouri is about to take.

On April 12, Missouri received what seemed like good news: Federal officials announced that Missouri will receive a $54 million federal grant to turn around its most persistently low-performing schools by taking drastic action such as replacing principals and closing schools. Districts will apply to the state for the money, and amounts ranging from $50,000 to $2 million per building will be distributed over three years. The first installment will be available before the start of the upcoming school year. First priority will be given to 52 struggling schools, mostly concentrated in Kansas City and St. Louis

At almost the same time, Missouri received some very bad news, too: The Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee has cut more than half the budget of Parents as Teachers (PAT) , to $13 million from $31 million.  PAT offers free services to interested families from pre-natal development until kindergarten. Its goals include helping parents understand early childhood development, detecting developmental delays and health issues, preventing child abuse and neglect, and increasing school readiness. The 25-year-old program, founded in Missouri, has served 3 million children nationwide since 1985.

If the budget cuts for PAT are approved by the May 7 deadline, 1,300 parent educators will lose their jobs, and fewer families will be served with fewer resources, says Pat Simpson, marketing communications director with PAT’s national center in St. Louis. In addition to the budget cut, families with higher incomes may be required to pay for the services instead of receiving them for free.

The loss of PAT services will have a significant quality-of-learning impact in Missouri. Here’s some of what Parents as Teachers has been demonstrated to accomplish for children entering school:

  • Parents as Teachers parents engage in more language- and literacy promoting behaviors with their children: they are more likely to read aloud to their children, take them to the library, and give them opportunities to read and receive books that those not in a Parents as Teachers program.
  • Parents as Teachers parents are more involved in their children’s schooling, initiating contact with teachers and attending school conferences, supporting learning at home, and participating in school activities and parent organizations—all at a significantly higher rate than those who have not participated in the program.

Can Missouri really afford to undermine this program? Do Missouri lawmakers need a road map to see the connection? Go ahead: ask for and spend as many millions as you can get for those “low-performing schools,” (whatever that means). Fix the buildings. Hire and train more teachers. Increase teachers’ salaries. Undoubtedly, there will be more testing, too. But without the evidence-proven benefits of Parents as Teachers, those efforts could prove to be too little, too late. All that money may achieve very little if the kids in those schools—and their parents—have missed out on the early-childhood developmental milestones and opportunities that are so critical to successful learning.