Less is NOT more when it comes to government spending on quality early childhood education. Since the beginning of the Great Recession, California has cut spending for these programs by 26 percent. The reduction of government-funded quality childcare and preschool programs will cost each taxpayer four times more in 14 years than the dollar spent today.
What do we want for our future society? The choices we make today will drive the quality of life for many years to come. After attending a meeting on the coordination of childcare and preschool programs, I heard a story that affected me for several days, and even now as I write this column.
One meeting participant relayed a story about the tragic cutbacks in childcare programs for recipients of CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program for families. The state works to find jobs for eligible candidates, but, unfortunately, it has continually cut childcare funding for this group of working poor.
One department head said there was a recent incident where a county worker found 24 very young children strapped into car seats placed around a room and against the wall of a 550-sq. foot apartment. Needless to say, this is pathetic for one of the wealthiest regions on the planet.
Why can’t we come up with effective solutions for our children even in a down economy?
A CalWORKS-eligible parent with a job now has very little choice on what to do: leave their child(ren) in a car, or their home in many cases, unattended for hours, or pay $5 per day for the service this unqualified daycare provider was offering. With these choices, the supervision should be the better option, but we must do better.
Much of the research for the last 40 years has indicated that upfront spending on quality childcare and preschool programs—birth through age 5—is a prudent investment that pays tremendous dividends for the society at large. In a study released last week on Michigan’s early childhood education programs, the results were characterized as “startling.”
A 14-year study of 500 Michigan children demonstrated meaningful results:
• High school graduation rates for minority children that attended pre-K were graduating at a 60 percent compared to a 36 p[ercent rate for those who didn’t.
• Fewer students were held back a grade (49 percent to 36 percent). Remember, retention is a hidden cost to states budgets.
• Kindergarten teachers of students who had P-K experience said those children demonstrated more creativity, initiative and ability to retain key aspects of their learning.
This Wednesday, several of the county Board of Education’s partners on early learning will deliver presentations on the positive effects of quality early learning experiences. The meeting begins at 5:30pm and the subject is open for public comment. Here is a link to the agenda.
Our most vulnerable children deserve a bright future. We are the village elders who must help them reach their goals. In turn, they will help us build a more enlightened future.