Guest Opinions

Head Start gives Idaho’s children a bright future

Although our nation is becoming increasingly divided and it often seems as though our leaders do not agree on many things, there is one major priority on which we should all be able to come together: investing in our children and their futures.

High-quality early childhood education programs are critical to the development of our kids. They are also one of the most effective tools in ensuring equal opportunity for all and breaking the cycle of poverty. Our children are truly our greatest resource, and providing a strong start in life for them will help guarantee our country has a bright future.

A child’s brain nearly reaches full development by age 5, but 40 percent of kids in America are not enrolled in preschool. These children, especially those from lower-income homes, often start school behind their peers. In fact, by the age of 4, a child living in poverty can lag their peers in development by as much as 18 months. Many never catch up and the consequences have long-term effects.

Children living in poverty who don’t participate in high-quality early education programs like Head Start are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school and 60 percent more likely to never attend college compared to their more well-off peers. There are proven solutions to these challenges.

Since its creation, Head Start has helped prepare more than 33 million American children for kindergarten and beyond. Its graduates have gone on to be world leaders, doctors and successful businesspeople.

Not only do these programs help kids and families, but they also help our economy.

In fact, Nobel Prize-winning economist and University of Chicago professor James Heckman’s most recent research released in December 2016 shows that high-quality early-childhood programs for disadvantaged children more than pay for themselves and can provide a 13 percent return on investment per year, per child.

Unfortunately, for a lot of families, access to high-quality programs are either not available locally or remain out of reach due to cost.

While these are challenging times for the federal budget and many agencies are living with tighter funding, Congress has the opportunity to lead in high priority areas. Perhaps no program is more important than providing a solid foundation for our children and their opportunity to learn. The House of Representatives approved a $26 million increase for Head Start in fiscal year 2018. This is on top of the $141 million increase that Congress approved for fiscal year 2017. While this is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure all kids, regardless of where they were born, have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Of course, lawmakers must be good stewards of taxpayer money, and the reality is not everything can be a priority, but we must also ensure that critical programs for kids get the investment they deserve.

To ensure a better future, we have to be willing to commit resources today, and that begins with investing in our kids. We don’t think anyone would disagree with doing all that we can to ensure that underserved children have access to vital resources they need to succeed.

That’s why we believe in investments in early childhood education and will continue to work with federal, state, local and private partners to invest in the youngest among us today, so they can be successful tomorrow and for the rest of their lives.

Congressman Mike Simpson represents the 2nd district of Idaho. Mark K. Shriver is president of Save the Children Action Network and senior vice president, U.S. Programs and Advocacy, of Save the Children.

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