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Study to assess how full-day kindergarten impacts children’s health

Does full-day kindergarten improve children’s health? That’s the big question UNLV health sciences researchers plan to examine.

Researchers are partnering with the Kansas Health Institute, a nonprofit health policy and research organization, to create a health impact assessment that will inform how possible state legislative changes to full-day kindergarten could impact children’s health.

“Health outcomes are just starting to be investigated,” said Courtney Coughenour, postdoctoral scholar at UNLV’s School of Community Health Sciences. “However, we have found that better educational attainment is linked to fewer infectious diseases and other healthy behaviors.”

The assessment will study how quality early education programs improve a child’s long-term health through scientific data, professional expertise and stakeholder input to identify and evaluate public health consequences of proposals, according to Tatiana Lin, a senior analyst and strategy team leader at the Kansas Health Institute.

“HIAs consider all sides of an issue to present unbiased information,” Lin said. “It’s really a tool for decision-makers to use so they can fully understand the health effects of proposed laws, regulations and programs.”

Researchers are compiling data on the link between full-day kindergarten and health for Nevada legislators who plan to discuss children’s issues when the Legislature convenes in February.

While the assessment is in its beginning stages, the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, a community-based nonprofit that advocates for the well-being of Nevada’s children, has found that at-risk children who do not receive a high-quality early childhood education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education and 60 percent more likely not to attend college.

In addition, the study found that those who graduate from college can expect to live five years longer than those who have not finished high school and that it reduces a range of health risks.

However, possible drawbacks to full-day kindergarten include increased fatigue, pressure to achieve and reduced recreational and family time, according to UNLV School of Community Health Sciences research.

United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings found Nevada ranks 37th among the United States’ overall health in 2013.

“It’s scary to me when, in Nevada, we’re fighting for full-day kindergarten when we have the lowest participation in early childhood education,” said Sandy Miller, former Nevada first lady and education advocate. “Look how hard we have to fight to get what other states consider to be the most basic standard. But yay on us; we are No. 1 in access to alcohol.”

In 2013, the Legislature considered expanding full-day kindergarten. However, the bill didn’t pass due to budget constraints, among other concerns.

“It’s very interesting in Nevada because kindergarten students are not funded at the same level as all of the other students,” said Victoria Carreon, director of Research and Policy at the Guinn Center, a nonprofit that analyzes policy issues facing Nevada. “They only get 60 percent of the funding compared to all of the other students. That has not made full-day kindergarten very feasible for the school district level in the past.”

The Nevada Department of Education estimated that full-day kindergarten would cost approximately $40,464,672 for 2014-15.

UNLV researcher Max Gakh said the timeline of the assessment would be tied to the Legislature’s proposed policies. He expects that most of the report should be completed by midyear.

The health impact assessment was made possible by a grant of more than $89,000 from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, according to its website.

“Right now, we’re waiting for the governor to announce his budget, which will be in mid-January,” Carreon said. “At that point, we will know what the proposal is and what kind of funding source we’ll have.”

For more information, visit unlv.edu/publichealth.

Contact North View reporter Sandy Lopez at slopez@viewnews.com or 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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