Opinion

Opinion

Early Education: a Worthy Investment

By JOAN KAGAN

The Benjamin Franklin adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is as true today as it was when Franklin authored it in 1736. Pay attention early, and you prevent costly problems later — a simple concept that is demonstrated in high-quality early-education programs, such as Square One, in which the cognitive, social, emotional, health, and nutrition needs of children and families are addressed through research-based curriculums and activities.

Each April, the National Assoc. for the Education of Young Children shines a national spotlight on the needs of young children and their families while focusing the public’s attention on programs that meet those needs. The Week of the Young Child, celebrated this year April 6-12, is an opportunity for us to stop and support these meaningful contributions and the impact those contributions have in improving the lives of children and their families.

Children with a high-quality early-childhood program get better grades, are more educated, are 40% more likely to graduate from high school, and become better employees and better citizens.  When James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, was asked how best to positively impact our economy, he responded, “high-quality early-childhood programs.”  Heckman and other economists report that the return on dollars invested in quality early-education programming varies from 7% to 16%. The savings are recognized in a reduction in crime, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, special education, and welfare dependency.

Yet, the challenge of funding high-quality early education for all children is daunting. The majority of funding is federal, and eligibility is based on the economic and work status of the family. The cost of providing the service far exceeds the rate of reimbursement from state contracts.

Many private early-education and care providers are no longer accepting or are reducing serving the number of children with subsidies because of the low rates of reimbursement, thus reducing access to services. Unfortunately, many of our community’s  poorest children, who are at highest risk for school failure, are not eligible for subsidized early education, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty and unemployment.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama affirmed that the job of equipping our citizens with the skills and training necessary to grow our economy has to start at the earliest possible age. And recently, Gov. Deval Patrick announced his heightened focus on early education in Massachusetts.

Both leaders know that early education is a wise investment that will pay for itself many times over, and will benefit everyone. Businesses will benefit from an educated workforce. Communities will benefit from reductions in violent crime. Schools will benefit from students who are not simply ready to enter school, but who are prepared to excel in school and who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade — a key indicator of a child’s future success in school.

Early education is irrefutably an ounce of prevention that is worth, for us all, a pound of cure.

The Week of the Young Child provides a special opportunity to support early-education and care programs. Join us during this special week to celebrate the good works happening every day by pledging your commitment to the highest-risk children and families who need a chance to learn and grow together.

Contribute your time or talent. Come and visit, and share a special skill with our children and families. Coming in and reading for even an hour shows our children just how much our community cares for and about them. Take this week to demonstrate your support for our year-round work.

Joan Kagan is president of Springfield-based Square One; (413) 732-5183.

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