Last week, the five gubernatorial candidates met in Springfield for this election season’s first televised debate. Hosted by Jim Madigan, WGBY-TV’s public affairs director, the event covered a wide range of topics “from global warming to casino gambling,” according to The debate was organized by the Springfield Public Forum and the Western Massachusetts Media Consortium.

All five candidates — Republican Charlie Baker, Democrat Martha Coakley, and the three independents, Evan Falchuk, Scott Lively, and Jeff McCormick — also discussed the importance of preschool programs, explaining their strategies for meeting the needs of the commonwealth’s children.

Their answers give voters a sense of the varying approaches the candidates would take. WWLP has posted a video of the debate. And we’ve provided a transcript of the candidate’s answers about early education below.

So please took a look. And be sure to vote on Election Day, November 4, 2014. For more information and resources, visit our election year advocacy webpage.

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Universal Pre-K: Good Idea?

Jim Madigan: “Our next question goes first to Mr. Lively. Let’s talk about the other end of the educational spectrum – what about universal prekindergarten education? Bad idea? Good idea? Too expensive to consider? Or is not having universal pre-K in your opinions really more expensive in the long run?”

Scott Lively: “Well I think most people are in agreement that the number one factor in the success of children is parental involvement and that would be my priority in education. I think that universal pre-K goes in the opposite direction. We shouldn’t be taking children away from parents and giving them to the government at earlier ages. We should be helping the parents have more time.

“I would reverse the priorities that we have right now. I would introduce an educational choice system, a voucher system, and I would include homeschooling as one of the models that the vouchers could be used for. I think that children who come out of homeschooling score the best; they are very successful in life because of parental involvement.

“My second priority would be private religious and secular schools where there is high parental participation. I would also invest more heavily in charter schools. And in government schools, which I think is the least priority, I would shift the model away from an a la carte system to a cohort system where the children actually go through school together as a group, more like family, than being sort of kept apart and individualistic.”

Jim Madigan: “Thank you sir. Mr. McCormick.”

Jeff McCormick: “Forty-three percent of our third graders are not proficient in reading. That is unacceptable. Many of these kids will drop out of high school. They have to learn to read before they can read to learn. So I am strongly in favor of early childhood education and it needs to be real education by real educators. If you talk to any of these educators, they will tell you that. It has to be professionals.

“We need to put children on the right track. They will get further and further behind if we don’t. I was at Alma del Mar [it’s in New Bedford] it’s a charter school. It’s a very mixed school, a lot of underprivileged kids, a lot of English Language Learners (ELL) many starting behind, and they get them on track. They gain a year and a half of education in every year. That is so impressive. Locally, 30 percent of the kids hit the benchmarks. What does the school do? Over 70 percent. That’s where we have to go with education. It’s not fair that your fate is decided by a lottery.

Jim Madigan: “Mr. Baker.”

Charlie Baker: “In the 1990s, Massachusetts made one of the most significant investments in the country in pre-K education and, I think, should continue to be a national leader in respect to that. And I’ve said since I got into this race that I support an increase in targeted investment in early childhood education.

“My biggest concern with this issue is we have to make sure when we make that investment we have kids going into schools where they continue to benefit from the gain that they received as a result of being in that program. There have been a lot of studies done, some by the Brookings Institution in Washington and others by the Obama administration, that demonstrate that children coming out of pre-K programs that enter into schools that aren’t up to the capability that they need to be actually lose all the benefit they get out of being in pre-K by the time they get to third grade, which may have something to do with some of the scores Jeff was talking about.

“There’s no question that we should be doing whatever we possibly can to make sure that our third graders are reading at a proficient level. Some of that involves continuing to invest in and grow our participation in early childhood ed[ucation]. But it also means making a commitment to improve the schools at the K-through-8 and the K-through-12 level that those kids move into after they come out of early childhood ed. And in that particular case we’ve made tremendous progress over the last twenty years; we have a long way to go. And whether you’re talking about expanding charter schools, or one of my preferred options which is also making sure we make every school a great school in every community has got to be part of the answer here.”

Jim Madigan: “Thank you sir. Ms. Coakley.”

Martha Coakley: “So this has got to be one of the places where Charlie and I really differ because investing in pre-K, in making sure that our kids in my proposal off the bat would take 17,000 kids off a waiting list. We’ve got a price tag of $150 million dollars that immediately gives those kids the opportunity to get that head start that Jeff was talking about that the studies do show make a difference.

“I talked to a kindergarten teacher the other day. I said, can you tell when kids have come in and they’ve had a chance for pre-K or not, and she said of course there’s a huge difference. Talk to a teacher at any grade level they will see it, and the studies, despite what Charlie says, do show that it makes a difference.

“But the real point is here of course we need to make sure that that third grade and that eighth grade education are good and that we move towards teaching not just to the test. And I talked earlier about extended learning time and making sure that kids do maximize their opportunity. It shouldn’t depend on the zip code they grow up in; we should be good partners to all of our communities to level the playing field for that.

“Malden High School I visited, we were talking today, and they teach coding there. Computer science is going to be crucial for every level of education and jobs in the future. So Paul Marques teaches a class and they taught me an hour of coding — I was able to get the angry birds to eat each other after an hour — so I felt that I was successful. But the kids came to me and said: ‘Mr. Marques teaches us how to walk and we learn how to fly.’ And I thought this is not just for coding this is what we want for all of our kids. Investing in our schools and our kids is what makes sense for our future and theirs.”

Jim Madigan: “Thank you. Mr. Falchuk.”

Evan Falchuk: “Everybody in the political establishment today will say all the right things about how important it is to educate kids, especially in early childhood education, but the money isn’t there. The money isn’t there.

“The studies have been done; it’s clear there is a benefit for early childhood education. Why is there a waiting list for over 40,000 kids in Massachusetts for early childhood education when we’re spending over a billion dollars to expand the Boston Convention Center? How can this be? How can this be? Chapter 70 funding going to schools, education, which is supposed to be updated every two years and the last time it was updated was ten years ago. There’s not enough money available. I think maybe our legislators are saying some really nice things but not actually showing up with the money when it counts.

“And that’s the problem that we have in our society today. It is not about whether we know that every dollar invested in early childhood education has sixteen dollars in positive benefits. It’s there; it’s real. The only question is why the people that we elect [do] not take action to actually deal with this issue. Why don’t they? Why do they take action, again, on things like expanding the Boston Convention Center that they did in the last two weeks of the legislative session? $1.2 billion. Most people don’t even realize it. The big tax breaks that go out to big companies. This is the kind of stuff that takes a higher priority than our children in early childhood education. It will not change until we elect people who want to make a change and who will. That’s why I’m running and that’s why I founded the United Independent Party.”