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In Wisconsin, availability of ‘4K’ — kindergarten for 4-year-olds — now close to statewide

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When it comes to offering 4-year-olds the chance to take part in early-childhood education, few states can boast a program as far-reaching as Wisconsin’s. And the state’s 4K program keeps on growing, according to new Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data.
This year, 93 percent of the state’s public school districts that provide elementary education extended instruction to 4-year-olds. Since 2003, the number of districts taking part in the 4K program has more than doubled.
For decades, Wisconsin has included instruction for 4-year-olds as part of its state-aid formula for local schools (few states make such a funding commitment). Participating school districts must extend this learning option to all 4-year-olds within their jurisdictional borders, but they are then given wide discretion in how that instruction is delivered.
One common method, for example, is what has come to be known in Wisconsin as the “community approach”: a partnership forged by local school districts, private child care facilities and local Head Start centers. Services can be delivered in different settings (a local private preschool, for example, or in a public school building), and the partnership also can include at-home support for parents.
Some districts, on the other hand, select a more-traditional school-based approach to delivering 4K.
However it is delivered, “4K works for kids,” says State Superintendent Tony Evers, citing studies that show links between quality early-education programs and a reduction in the need for special-education services as well as lower grade-retention rates and higher graduation rates.
Wisconsin’s commitment to early learning began early in the state’s history. Its 1848 Constitution called for schools to be “free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years.”
The reinstatement in 1984 of state aid for 4K helped lay the groundwork for growth in the program. The 4K initiative has also spread due to heightened awareness about the value of early learning and more interest among parents and child care providers.