Opinion piece By Greg Anton and Burnie Zercher
POSTED: 10/30/2014 03:57:52 PM MDT via Denver Post
Read the full, original article here: http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_26831122/early-childhood-solution-colorados-economy?source=infinite
Our coalition of business leaders has an idea on how to improve Colorado’s economy: Invest in early childhood education. And, we’re not alone. A poll conducted by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research for the First Five Years Fund shows that a whopping 77 percent of Colorado voters believe investments in early education will help our state’s economy.
As members of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, we believe that greater investments in early learning must be part of Colorado’s economic development agenda.
Ensuring that all children develop into healthy, educated and productive citizens needs to begin at birth, well before they enter kindergarten. Neuroscience research has shown that 90 percent of brain development happens by age 5, and that early learning lays the foundation for success.
Many children, though, come from families whose parents work multiple jobs and can’t afford quality education and care. As a result, these children arrive at kindergarten already behind in vocabulary and socialization — and too many don’t catch up. Providing disadvantaged children with high-quality early education can counteract these negative effects, and bring a return on investment through less need for costly special education and remediation, increased graduation rates, better health and a more productive workforce in just 18 short years.
The results of Colorado’s preschool program show the wisdom of making quality early education available to children from low- and moderate-income families. Children who are able to attend the Colorado Preschool Program (CPP), which provides free high-quality preschool to at-risk 4-year-olds, make significant academic improvements that do not fade out. A 2014 report to the legislature showed that CPP students now in eighth grade — the latest data available — perform better on tests in math, reading and writing than children with similar backgrounds who did not attend preschool. CPP students are also held back less often, saving money on expensive remediation efforts.
Unfortunately, the Colorado Department of Education estimates that as many as 16,588 at-risk 4-year-olds statewide had no preschool available to them through CPP or Head Start in the 2013-14 school year. While the similarly successful Denver Preschool Program has reached 70 percent of city 4-year-olds, only 21 percent of eligible 4-year-olds statewide have access to CPP due to stagnant funding.
Voters want Colorado leaders to fix this problem. The poll found that 73 percent — including 55 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents and 86 percent of Democrats — want Colorado to expand voluntary early learning. And, three-in-five voters believe the federal government should help. Fortunately, there is a bill before Congress to provide funding to states that have quality programs like ours. Our senators and representatives would be wise to advance such efforts.
These programs strengthen families, they don’t replace them. Colorado voters recognize that parents are their child’s first teacher, but that many working families do not always have the time, knowledge or resources to provide quality early experiences. Seventy percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Independents and 88 percent of Democrats support voluntary parent education programs, and 72 percent of voters support plans to help families afford the high cost of child care and preschool. A recent report by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Qualistar and the Colorado Children’s Campaign found that Coloradans spend between $6,000 and $17,000 a year on child care costs, making our state the fifth least-affordable for care.
The cost of care harms more than just parents and children: problems with finding and paying for child care hurt our economy through lost productivity, absenteeism, decreased focus and a reduction in qualified workers.
Investing in quality early education for Colorado’s children will give them a strong start and strengthen our economy. Our state is blessed with many natural resources, but our greatest resource is people. The more we invest in their development, the more we will all prosper. Colorado voters believe this to be true. It’s time for our leaders to take action.
Greg Anton and Burnie Zercher, are roundtable members of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.
Image: Investing in quality early education for Colorado s children will give them a strong start and strengthen our economy. (Getty Images file)