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Published: Friday, 5/26/2006

A boost for pre-school

CONSERVATIVES might hate to admit it, but occasionally Hollywood is right on the money. It's hard not to applaud what supporters of Proposition 82 in California are trying to accomplish with an early-education initiative. Clearly, a new study about the proposed universal pre-school program, the brainchild of Hollywood producer Rob Reiner, has won over educational researchers outside the state.

The National Institute for Early Education Research, which regularly evaluates state and local programs nationwide, had previously given California poor marks for its existing preschool programs. But the proposal on the state's June ballot has the nonpartisan think-tank, based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, practically raving about its potential.

Researchers say Proposition 82 has all the right hallmarks essential to good-quality pre-school, including teacher accreditation, comprehensive early-education standards, higher teacher pay, and state monitoring.

The report on California's pre-school proposal also suggests it will dramatically improve student achievement throughout the system - reducing the strain on K-12 - and, if adopted, eventually become a national model.

Proposition 82 calls for a $2.4 billion annual program open to all 4-year-olds. Funding would come from imposing a 1.7 percent tax on individual incomes over $400,000 a year and couples' incomes over $800,000 a year. Researchers conservatively estimate the state would get back $2.78 for every $1 invested in the program.

The savings, says the institute's report, would come through a drop in school failure rates and subsequent problems such as delinquency, crime, and lower productivity.

Today the increasing academic demands on elementary and secondary students make the early building blocks of education more important than ever.

To give all children the benefit of a premier pre-school education paid for by high income taxpayers is worth universal endorsement.

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