Early childhood education is worth the investment

Posted Monday, Feb. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Kindergarten and first-grade teachers recognize kids who enter their classrooms having been through a year or two of early childhood education. They're usually the ones who are already comfortable not only with letters and numbers but also with classroom basics like participating in group activities.

With those basics in place, these kids are ready to learn.

President Barack Obama is touting plans he laid out in last week's State of the Union speech, including universal pre-kindergarten education.

Noting that a ZIP code or the size of a parent's paycheck should not determine any child's educational opportunities, Obama proposed a cost-sharing partnership with states that would add incentives for full-day kindergarten policies and a new Early Head Start-Child Care plan for children 3 and younger. He also wants to expand voluntary home-visiting programs in which professionals (such as nurses and social workers) help connect families to support systems that can improve a child's development and ability to learn, a White House statement said.

Students who are not performing at grade level by third grade have a rough road ahead, as they are six times less likely to graduate, the president said. He noted, "Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save seven dollars later on -- boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime."

Many school districts in Texas, including some in Tarrant County, have been increasing the number of children who have access to education at an early age. But although Texas spent almost $711 million last year for 225,037 students (ages 3 and 4) in half-day pre-kindergarten programs, the state has 777,163 children in that age group.

While most educators and state officials can agree on the need for more and better early childhood education, resistance is likely to come when the full cost and the extent of accompanying federal mandates are known. For example, Obama's plan calls for high-quality teachers in these programs who "are paid comparably to K-12 staff."

The estimated cost to the federal government would be $10 billion to $15 billion annually. Those funds could be hard to come by during tough economic times.

Still, Obama is right to push for better early childhood education. A solid pre-K foundation makes kids better able to enter school and start building a lifetime of learning. That should be a national priority.

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