When It Comes to Early Childhood Education, Who Are You Listening To?
Early childhood education isn’t a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Tea Party issue. It is a critical component to our community’s long term success, and should be treated that way, regardless of your political persuasion.
If you are under the belief that early childhood education, (pre-natal care, quality childcare, all day pre-school & kindergarten) is a waste of time and money, and efforts to improve early childhood learning are lost by the age of nine, I want to ask you this question, “Who have you been listening to?”
While it’s easy to get caught up in political passions during the campaign season, now is the time to put rhetoric aside and hear what our local experts say about the importance of early childhood education.
Randy Poe, the Superintendent of Boone County Schools, the third largest school district in the state of Kentucky (responsible for educating over 20,000 kids), will tell you that school districts often spend a lot of time and taxpayer dollars playing catch-up for a large group of kids who come to kindergarten unprepared. Poe told me, “Early childhood education provides the opportunity to narrow the education gap for all children entering school.” He explained, “It provides the pathway for greater learning that also reduces remediation cost for school districts.”
Rick Hulefeld, the chair Kentucky's newly formed Early Childhood Advisory Council, and the Executive Director of Children, Inc., told me, “90% of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5. Yet the majority of our resources are spent after that time. We need to reevaluate our current spending priorities and engage the entire community around the importance of improving early childhood education and childcare.”
Geoff Mearns, the President of Northern Kentucky University and the co-chair of myNKY strategic planning process told me, “While participating in the process that produced our region’s strategic plan, it became clear to me that, in order to achieve our collective goals, we must provide quality early childhood education for every child in our community.”
Dr. Terri Cox-Cruey, the Superintendent of Kenton County Schools, (responsible for educating over 15,000 kids), can direct you to a variety of studies that show the positive impact of early childhood education. “The data seems clear,” she explains. “Quality early childhood programs increase kindergarten readiness skills and parental involvement which ultimately leads to greater academic success.”
Alvin Garrison, the Superintendent of Covington Independent Public Schools, said, "Education is the key to prosperity. We have a moral and civic obligation to give children a solid beginning to their development. Early childhood education is a way to reach this goal.”
And Gene Kirchner, the Superintendent of Fort Thomas Independent Schools, (full disclosure – where my kids go to school, and one of the top school districts in the state – Go Birds!), told me, “The degree to which a child has quality educational experiences between birth and the age of five is the greatest single predictor of their future academic success or failure. We can no longer afford to overlook this fact.”
Many business and civic leaders, on both sides of the aisle, are listening.
Just two weeks ago, past Kentucky Governors, both Republican and Democrat, invited Kentucky business leaders to participate in the seminar, “Early Childhood: A Wise Investment in Kentucky’s Future.” Speakers included John Pepper, retired CEO and chairman of Procter & Gamble, Wil James, President of Toyota, & Jim Votruba, president emeritus of NKU.
John Pepper said, “In business, we rarely have the luxury of making an investment decision with as much evidence as we have to support the economic value of investing in early childhood development and education … Put bluntly, in my terms, they are a financial no-brainer.”
Jim Votruba said, “I'm no expert on early childhood education but I've studied the research and consulted with dozens of scholars and policy experts who have studied early childhood programs from every angle. The results are inescapable: Investment in accessible high quality early childhood education will have a significant long term impact on subsequent education success... and that success translates into more youngsters ready for college and career and a stronger and more competitive commonwealth. Frankly, we can't afford NOT to invest!"
As the Chair of the Kentucky Chamber’s Education and Workforce Council, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with education experts from all around our state, who reiterate these same thoughts. Educators aren’t just unanimous on their support for investing more in early childhood, they are passionate about it.
The most powerful statement I’ve heard regarding the importance of early childhood education, came from my child’s former principal, Jay Brewer. Jay was a terrific principal, and is now the Superintendent for Dayton Independent Schools. He is also a graduate of the Kentucky Chamber’s Leadership Institute for School Principals. In my opinion, he is one of the most respected educators in Northern Kentucky. He told me, “If I were forced to choose, I’d eliminate the senior year of high school and use the money for pre-school and kindergarten. We’d get better outcomes.”
So, I ask you, when it comes to the importance of early childhood education, who are you listening to? I hope you’ll listen to the folks in our state that are not only responsible for educating our kids, but also have a personal stake in our community. Listen to them, and join the effort to improve early childhood education in our community.
Written by Brent Cooper, president of Covington-based C-Forward.