A mother’s take on a lawmaker’s pre-K comment

For decades, grandparents, retired neighbors and “off duty” teachers have been filling in the gaps of our early childhood education system, observes Sarah Brechwald, a Hopkinsville mother of three young boys.

“I’m not a fan of pre-K,” said Kentucky State Senate President Robert Stivers, calmly, after having been a professional politician for the last 25 years. “Children don’t have to be in school,” he said, after years of tossing more and more of the legislature’s public policy burdens to parents and educators, and directing the revenue elsewhere.

We need parents to get back to work, say the same politicians. It’s all about growing our businesses, they say, at a time when death — yes, death — has so depleted the reserves of family and professional caregivers and educators that employees in every sector aren’t showing up to work. It’s not because they can afford not to work; it’s not because they’re lazy, but so often it’s because there is no one left for their kids. 

Where are all the workers? That’s what we hear from the ones who rose through the ranks by relying on family caregivers and teachers who repeatedly took on more responsibilities before and after school with less resources so the kids would be okay a little longer. So the corporate and political climbers could keep climbing. So the one parent with the one full-time job could keep the only available health coverage holding the family out of bankruptcy. 

Somehow, our current lawmakers never noticed how, for decades, our grandparents, retired neighbors, and “off duty” teachers have been filling in the gaps of our early childhood education system. Through love and generosity, these ad hoc volunteers have been holding our fragile parental workforce up by a thread. Now, so many are gone or requiring care themselves in the pandemic that we can easily see their vital role in our economy. It’s staring us in the face. Without the working parents gear turning, without supporting children, the entire machine stops. 

This problem isn’t new, and it’s going to get worse. Have you noticed all the social media posts like this lately? “I found a great job, but we’re still on the preschool waiting list.” … “I can start next week, but I still need somewhere for the kids.” … “Anyone know a good babysitter who can drive? Sorry, I can’t afford a car, and Mom is still in the hospital.” 

Will we finally invest in early childhood caregivers and educators? Will we assign them the value they’ve always had and give them the tools they need to keep carrying us onward?

No, say most Kentucky legislators. No pre-K; no long-term support for education and early childhood care as economic pillars; no safe, reliable, widespread infrastructure for kids of working parents. 

We’ll just keep scratching our heads, wondering where all the workers are.