Wonder the Result if Pre-School Children
had a Say in Who Goes to Washing D.C.
as an "Elected Representative?"
By: David T Taylor Jr.
GOLDSBORO -- Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently pointed to the benefits of early childhood education for individuals and to the economy as a whole. "The payoffs of early childhood programs can be especially high," he said. "For instance, preschool programs for disadvantaged children have been shown to increase high school graduation rates. Because high school graduates have higher earnings, pay more taxes and are less likely to use public health programs, investing in such programs can pay off even from the narrow perspective of state budgets; of course, the returns to the overall economy and to the individuals themselves are much greater."
So what are our North Carolina legislators thinking when they cut the funding of vital preschool programs, Smart Start and More at Four, and reorganize them to disrupt continuity with our K-12 system?
The key to our future work force is our investment in at-risk children birth to 5 years of age. There is data to show that North Carolina is failing to address the needs of preschool children and is therefore allowing one-third of our children to drop out of school and struggle to become productive responsible citizens. We cannot afford to allow one-third of our future work force to fail to become contributors to our economy.
We are competing with the Chinese, who are pouring money into preschool programs. China is investing in early brain and child development. If China develops one-tenth of its potential work force, it will surpass the United States in economic capacity. We cannot afford to cut our investment in our youngest children at this critical time. We need a "growth" strategy for our future, not a shortsighted "deficit" strategy.
The statistics paint a depressing picture of our future work force. One in three 5-year-old children do not have age-appropriate language skills. One in three third-graders cannot read at grade level, putting them at high risk to drop out of school.
The best way to address these embarrassing statistics, and assure a healthier work force for our state, is to invest in at-risk preschool children.
In spite of our excellent Smart Start program, which has become a national model, we have never served more than 47 percent of preschool children identified to be at-risk for school failure. More at Four was designed to bridge the gap between birth-to-3 and kindergarten. It was appropriately assigned to the state Department of Public Instruction, to assure continuity from preschool to kindergarten.
Our Early Intervention program has always moved at-risk children from the Department of Health and Human Services to Education after the third birthday. Moving More at Four away from Education makes little sense to professionals who work with at-risk children at the community level.
As a pediatrician who cares for many at-risk children, I would hope our legislators could follow the advice of Bernanke and adopt a "growth" strategy that increases our investment in our youngest children. Our current preschool programs are super; they just are not funded well enough to provide the outcomes we need in the current global economy.
We must do the right thing now for our youngest at-risk children and invest more, not less, in their future and our future.
David T. Tayloe Jr., M.D., has been a pediatrician in Goldsboro since 1977. He is a past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a current member of the Governor's Early Childhood Advisory Council and medical director for Reach Out and Read of N.C.
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