Now that the three pieces of legislation dealing with Students Come First have been voted down, and we begin the discussion of education reform in Idaho, its time to re-examine early childhood education.
According to the National Research Council, 90 percent of brain development occurs before a child is 5 years old, the age at which children enter kindergarten. What happens in a childs first five years of life significantly influences that childs lifetime attainments.
A large and growing interdisciplinary body of research indicates that children who attend quality early childhood education programs experience higher graduation rates and overall educational attainment, lower teenage pregnancy rates, lower crime rates, lower drug usage rates, higher lifetime earnings, and greater productivity.
They also show increased motivation, perseverance, self-control and self-confidence that lasts throughout their working career. While all children benefit from quality early childhood education, the benefits are greatest for children in lower-income families.
But Idaho lawmakers have consistently refused to make room for voluntary participation in programs that could be offered in public schools, saying in part that the role of early childhood education belongs at home.
July 18, 2011, marks the date of the first court ruling linking early education to at-risk childrens right to a sound basic education. North Carolina Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. decreed that the state could not deny any eligible 4-year-old admission to the North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program.
The case arose from a legislative decision that decreased funding to North Carolinas nationally recognized Smart Start and More At Four programs, voluntary programs designed to help children arrive at school ready to learn.
In his decision, Judge Manning stated, Simply put, it is the duty of the State of North Carolina to protect each and every one of these at-risk and defenseless children, and to provide them their lawful opportunity, through a quality prekindergarten program, to take advantage of their equal opportunity to obtain a sound basic education as guaranteed by the North Carolina constitution.
Community leaders, like Idaho Voices for Children, and business leaders, including the 80 members of Idaho Business for Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support improving access and funding for quality early childhood education. They recognize the growing skills gap in the United States and Idaho and view investment in quality early childhood education as a means to increase competitiveness and productivity. Economists, most notably Nobel laureate James Heckman, support investment in early childhood education as a source of economic growth.
As J. Rolnick from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis states, Early childhood development is economic development, and its economic development with a very high public return.
Early childhood education is a nonpartisan issue. Both red and blue states are ramping up their preschool offerings because of the high rate of return on public dollars. Idaho could be at the forefront of education along with Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Illinois states that offer early childhood education to all 4-year-olds.
In a recent ad, Gov. Butch Otter said, If we use yesterdays education system for todays children, we deny them the promise of tomorrow.
Yesterdays education system is the education system that does not make sure children enter kindergarten prepared to learn, the education system that ignores those critical first five years in a childs life. Lets base education reform in Idaho on best practices and research-based programs. Lets give every child in Idaho the promise of tomorrow, access to and funding for quality early childhood education programs.
Chris Loucks, economics professor in Boise States College of Business and Economics. firstname.lastname@example.org