FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, Dr. Wayne Lewis, said he will ask lawmakers to fund full-day kindergarten. The news from Dr. Lewis came as experts described the importance of early childhood education for growth and economic development.

Dr. Lewis told us that he knows budgets are tight but early education is so vital that you have to ask. While some are looking to expand public pre-school, something he feels is also important, he believes full-day kindergarten is the correct first step.

In Kentucky, only children in households at up to 160 percent of the national poverty rate, or with diagnosed disabilities, go to free public pre-kindergarten. Some school districts offer pre-school programs at a cost to parents whose children do not meet the state guidelines.

Each year, $170 million of Kentucky tax money goes toward funding half-day kindergarten at public schools. Communities with full-day options either charge families or tax their community to foot the full-day bill.

Lewis estimates that it'll take another $135 million to $150 million annually to fund full-day kindergarten across the Commonwealth.

"There's been a lot of conversation about expanded funding and increased investment in early childhood education, particularly at the preschool level,” Lewis said. “Obviously, early childhood education, early learning, is critically important to student's development. We believe that the appropriate first step though, that first ask, really has to be in shoring up funding to ensure that all of our kids have access to high quality kindergarten all day long."

After the hearing, Louisville Democratic Senator Gerald Neal gave credit to Lewis for making full-day kindergarten a priority, but he wants to see both full-day kindergarten and universal pre-school funded by taxpayers. Universal pre-school is public pre-kindergarten for every Kentucky child, not just those in high risk groups.

Lawmakers will hammer out the budget when the General Assembly returns to work in January. But it was important for them to hear this testimony now as they begin forming the broader picture of what demands there are. Even then, it will come back to the big question: From where do you get the money? It’s a question lawmakers will be asking about a lot of their favored issues.