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Priority Should Be On High School, Not Preschool




*This is the fourth of a series preschool and early child development. Part 1Part 2, Part 3.

Secretary of Education Rick Melmer knows that students at the fourth and eighth grade levels test very well - above the national average in math and reading on standardized tests. In fact, South Dakota students consistently score in the top 10 states for these grade levels.

But what happens at the high school level?

Remember the problems our colleges were having with the statewide average of about 29 percent of entering freshmen who needed remedial education? Aberdeen Central officials were appalled in July 2005 to learn that 44 percent of their 2003 graduates who attended state-run universities in South Dakota needed remedial math in order to meet the standards expected by higher education.

Does anyone really believe universal, publicly funded preschool will help improve high school test scores? Yet this is what the South Dakota Department of Education seems to be touting. Perhaps it is time to evaluate what is happening in our high schools instead of funding two or more years of public management of preschool-age children with the outside hope that their test scores and social lives at age 16 will be enhanced.

Looking at this from another angle, I have some concerns about the health of our children and grandchildren should universal preschool become the accepted method of child rearing in South Dakota. For instance, what will the state do about the added expense when children cared for in public preschools follow the typical pattern of exhibiting more communicable diseases than they do when cared for at home or in smaller facilities?

As a medical laboratory technologist, I vividly recall the hundreds of stool specimens my co-workers and I handled after an outbreak of giardia, an intestinal pathogen that swept through an 80-child preschool/day-care facility in Minnesota in the 1980s. The health department required everyone to be tested who had come in contact with the children with a series of three stool specimens each. In Wisconsin during the 1970s, I was involved in testing day-care children for meningitis, with three of about 15 testing positive.

There are studies that bear up under scrutiny, as well. For example, center-based day care increased younger children's sick days in bed by 30 percent while family day care (care in another home) increased children's sick days by 19 percent when evaluated against care in the child's home. Among older preschoolers only day care centers were associated with increased sick days, raising days spent sick in bed by 19 percent per year. The American Journal of Public Health published this study of 3,841 children ages 6 months to 5 years. Another study showed up to 50 percent more infections in a month and a 41/2 times greater likelihood of children being hospitalized if the child was cared for in a center.

I can hear the cry by the federally subsidized, grant-funded child advocates now: These preschool/day-care children would be much healthier if the taxpayer would just pour more money into universal preschool and day care, because many of the facilities out there now are substandard and workers need more training and more benefits.

I say, "Hogwash." Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors all know that the nature of preschool-age children is to stick things into their mouths and to share their germs all around. Please do not try to tell us that a quality universal preschool program will mean that every runny nose is wiped, every sniffle is stifled and every finger is shoved deep into the little darlings' pockets. Give us a break.

MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria, is no stranger to many with children and grandchildren in day-care settings. I would be happy to share our own family's story of the agony we suffered for months at the mercy of this vile organism picked up in a large day-care center/preschool in Wisconsin. I would bet a number of doctors in the Dakotas could share their nightmarish episodes of local families who have suffered, too. The Centers for Disease Control has reported four deaths in Minnesota and North Dakota from MRSA during 1997-1999.

According to the recent highly researched book, "Daycare Deception," "It is no longer possible to claim credibly that commercial day care does not harm children. Studies performed both by those who oppose day care and those who promote it prove that children reared in commercial settings are more aggressive, violent and depressed and suffer more illnesses than children reared by their mothers. (Day-care proponents typically disguise these unwelcome conclusions)."

Gov. Mike Rounds told us in his State of the State address on Jan. 11, 2005, that K-12 is down 4,100 students since 2000. My final question is this: Could it be that the education establishment/child advocate crowd is scrambling to find a way to pump more taxpayer dollars into public education by sweeping preschool-age children into the state-funded school aid formula?

I say, "I would bet on it."



Cindy Flakoll is a farm/ranch wife in McPherson County. She is also Legislative Liaison for Concerned Women for America of South Dakota. Concerned Women for America, a women'
s public policy organization, has more than 500,000 members nationwide.


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