Advocates for early childhood education protest Kansas budget cuts

Advocates of early childhood education programs gathered outside a Wichita preschool and child care center Friday to rally against state budget cuts.

"Investing in early childhood is not only the right thing to do, it's the economically responsible thing to do," said Gary Brunk, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children.

More than 100 parents, teachers, local leaders and children greeted the "Keeping the Promise" bus tour as it stopped outside the Opportunity Project (TOP) Early Childhood Center, 2330 N. Opportunity Drive.

The two-day, seven-city tour was hosted by Kansas Action for Children and the Kansas Coalition for School Readiness. It was designed to raise awareness about the importance of programs such as Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Smart Start and prekindergarten.

"Proposals at the Statehouse right now could slash millions of dollars from the state's most successful early childhood programs," Brunk said. "The best way we can keep this short-term financial problem from becoming a long-term crisis is to invest in Kansas kids."

Children who gathered to greet the tour bus held posters that read, "Keep the promise," "I'm the future of Kansas" and "Because I'm worth it."

Jon Rolph, executive vice president of Sasnak Management, a local restaurant company, said employers eventually reap the benefits of high-quality child care and preschool programs.

"Everything they learn in these early years are the same skills we businesses look for," Rolph said. "Confidence, self-esteem, communication skills... playing well with others."

Janice Smith, executive director of TOP, pointed to studies that show children who attend high-quality pre-K programs are more likely to graduate from high school and get a job and less likely to require special-education services or be arrested for a violent crime.

"If we put Kansas children on the right path from the very beginning, they'll stay on that path," she said. "And one of the ways is through early childhood programs."