Investing in Early Learners

As an educator deeply rooted in the St. Louis community, with nearly two decades of experience in urban education, I have seen firsthand the transformative power of quality preschool. We know that when kids are prepared for kindergarten, there is a direct correlation to long-term academic success and earning potential. Last week, our State Legislature passed a landmark bill investing in the future of our youngest students by increasing access to pre-kindergarten programs. With the passage of SB727, there will be twice as many fully subsidized preschool spots across Missouri for students who need it most.   

This news is a win for so many families and teachers. And for me, it’s also personal. As a mom of four navigating the challenges of juggling parenthood and a career in teaching, I know firsthand the necessity and potential of quality preschool. At one point, I had three children in preschool at the same time. I look back on those years fondly as our home was often filled with joyful learning songs and books, but it was also a chapter filled with tremendous stress ensuring our family could afford pre-K for all of our kids.

Without access to free pre-K for my children, I would have been forced to make seemingly impossible choices between staying in the workforce to provide for my family or staying at home to ensure my kids received quality care and an educational foundation. For others, these choices can be even more extreme—prioritizing their child’s education over their own basic needs.Thanks in large part to their strong educational start, today, I have four smart, ambitious, confident teenagers. One just enlisted in the Navy after graduating high school, and the others—even with some learning challenges—have excelled academically and are headed toward bright futures. 

Policy Making Impact

The passage of SB727 will make the support my family received a reality for thousands more parents across the state. This comprehensive bill includes big swings like teacher pay raises, retention and recruitment of teachers, and expanded public charter school access, among other amendments. While the news media briefly covered the historic bill, its broad impact on the future of our state calls for greater attention and celebration.  

What is even more exciting is that St. Louis is now ready to put these new resources to work immediately. As the Director of the St. Louis Pre-K Collaborative, it’s my mission to make sure that every available dollar of pre-K funding gets to the students who need it most. We do this by building innovative partnerships between public schools and community-based early childhood centers to fully utilize available funding and by fostering a community of collaboration to ensure all of our young learners achieve Kindergarten readiness.  

These efforts have put $3 million of previously unused state funding to work annually. As a result, 400 three- and four-year-olds from our most vulnerable St. Louis communities now have access to quality, free preschool, just like my kids did. 

Thanks to this bill, we can double that number in the Fall. And if we do, it’ll be a big step. A step that I hope sets the foundation for further expansion in the future.

Investing in early childhood education is not just about ensuring school readiness; it is also an investment in the long-term well-being and prosperity of our community. A healthy and supportive learning environment during the formative years can have a ripple effect, not only leading to improved educational outcomes but also to reduced rates of poverty and incarceration. This investment isn’t just in kids – it’s an investment for everyone in our neighborhoods grappling with how to address issues of crime and economic growth. 

If you are a parent. If you are an educator. If you care about young people in your life. If you are a committed St. Louisan. I urge you to take action and support our leaders in making decisions that center the needs of all families.


Samantha March is an Associate Partner at The Opportunity Trust. She leads the STL Pre-K Cooperative which works with preschool providers across the St. Louis region to ensure they have the ability to provide quality pre-K programs to prepare our community’s youngest students for long-term success.