O’Malley champions pre-K in Cedar Rapids stop

Grant Rodgers, The Des Moines Register 

The next president should push states to adopt full-day schooling programs for even young children to help boost the achievement of kids from poor families, Democratic presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley said Friday.

O’Malley touched on topics like childhood hunger, mental health and education issues as part of a morning Cedar Rapids panel discussion organized by the nonprofit Every Child Matters in Iowa. It was O’Malley’s third stop in the state’s second-largest city in a month’s time as he trails frontrunner Hillary Clinton and firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders in polls.

But child advocates gave the former Maryland governor’s remarks mostly thumbs-up reviews. Maryland requires its kindergarten students to attend a full-day of classes, O’Malley said, and the next president should push states toward having full-day options for pre-K students as well.

“Most states have, on their own, moved to full-day kindergarten,” he said. “I think the big initiative on the federal level is to work with states and provide matching funding that would allow us to move to full-day pre-K across the country. It should not be solely a federal responsibility, but I do believe that federal leadership would encourage states … to carry their fair share.”

Part of any pre-K push should be developing standards to ensure students begin kindergarten “ready to learn,” O’Malley said.

It will be challenging for any Democratic candidate to lead the pack on childhood issues, said Sheila Hansen, director of the Des Moines-based Child and Family Policy Center. Clinton likely has an edge because Iowans are familiar with the former first lady and secretary of state’s longtime advocacy on children and family issues, she said.

But Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley have all made similar well-worn calls for better preschool education and making college more affordable along the campaign trail in Iowa, Hansen said. A candidate could gain more traction among caucusgoers who are worried about such issues by doing a better job talking about nutrition and other childcare options, she said.

“We would love to see a little bit more talk around birth to (age) three,” Hansen said after O’Malley’s remarks. “Preschool is just part of the solution for addressing disparities among kids, but there are other things we could do.”

O’Malley highlighted a list of 15 goals to “rebuild the American dream” that his campaign released on Thursday, including a plan to end childhood hunger in America by 2020.

“Solving poverty is hard,” O’Malley told the panel. “It’s very complicated. But feeding children is simple.”

Originally published August 14,2015 The Des Moines Register (IA)