This article originally appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Actress Jennifer Garner asked state legislators Tuesday to preserve $1 million in funding for Save the Children’s early childhood and literacy programs that serve more than 12,000 Kentucky children.
She joined Save the Children Action Network President Mark Shriver at Senate and House committee meetings to discuss the value of high-quality early learning.
Shriver said Save the Children early childhood programs are seeing strong results in Kentucky. (See a breakdown of the Kentucky schools and children helped by Save the Children.)
Garner, who is from West Virginia, urged state senators on the Education Committee to support the Save the Children program and “keep something working so well for the kids here in Kentucky.”
Garner, a board member of Save the Children, and Shriver had breakfast Tuesday morning with the state’s new Republican governor, Matt Bevin.
“The governor and staff had an engaging conversation with Ms. Garner and Mr. Shriver about the Save the Children programs in Kentucky,” said Jessica Ditto, a spokeswoman for Bevin. “Save the Children has a long history of success helping children in poverty in Kentucky and we feel confident that the funding will be preserved in the budget.”
Ditto said the governor’s budget proposal maintains the funding as in previous years at $940,000 per year through money from coal severance and the Department of Education.
However, overall, Bevin’s budget proposal cuts $4 million for preschool services in each year of the biennium.
During his campaign for governor, Bevin questioned the state’s participation in federal preschool programs, citing a federal study showing the benefits were inconsequential once a child got beyond third grade, according to The Associated Press.
Lawmakers told Garner and Shriver on Tuesday that Kentucky had a tight budget. But Democratic Rep. Rick Rand, chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, told the Herald-Leader after Shriver and Garner spoke that he was hopeful the money could be preserved, as did Republican Mike Wilson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
With private sector funds “we are spending over $10 million here in Kentucky to match the $1 million the state has invested in our work,” said Shriver, who served eight years in the Maryland legislature.
Save the Children programs focus on reading, health and early intervention. The agency works in about 30 schools in about eight counties.
“Tomorrow I’m excited to visit Manchester Elementary School in Clay County where KPREP state assessment scores have gone up in every subject,” said Garner.
She said the school principal connects that success to an after-school literacy program that Save the Children operates.
Students in the Save the Children preschool programs have entered elementary school “on much stronger footing than they would have,” said Garner.
Shriver, the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said Save the Children began more than 80 years ago in Harlan County and has its largest office in Berea.
The programs tout a 77 percent improvement in reading skills, according to one report. Furthermore, 89 percent of 3-year-olds in the organization’s Early Steps program score at or above normal for vocabulary acquisition.
Garner told lawmakers about a mother she met in the Berea area about six years ago through Save the Children whose children had no books until a Save the Children coordinator brought them.
“The kids lit up like Christmas trees. They could not have been more excited,” Garner said.