Missing puzzle piece: Early childhood education in Montana

2014-06-01T00:00:00Z 2014-06-24T09:32:05Z Missing puzzle piece: Early childhood education in MontanaBy GOV. STEVE BULLOCK The Billings Gazette
June 01, 2014 12:00 am  • 

There are a lot of great things happening in Montana:

• Our economy is growing;

• We’ve added 10,000 jobs this year alone;

• Businesses are expanding;

• We have strong communities and an unmatched quality of life; and

• Graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down, and more and more students are pursuing higher education.

With all of the good things that are happening in the state, there is one important piece of the puzzle missing. While 42 other states make consistent investments into pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs, Montana remains in the shrinking minority of states that have never invested in the human capital of our earliest learners.

This isn’t just a social issue; this isn’t just an educational issue; this is fundamentally an economic issue.

This past week, 150 business leaders joined Dennis and Phyllis Washington at the Business Leaders Summit on Early Childhood Education, held in Missoula. They were there because, as Art Rolnick, the retired Sr. Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has said, “The best investment in economic development that government and the private sector can make is in the healthy development of children.”

And it’s not just economists and social scientists that have reached this conclusion. Business leaders from across the nation have taken notice that every $1 spent on high-quality pre-k programs creates $7 in future savings to the communities and states that invest. They know that children with high quality early learning opportunities are more likely to read at grade level, graduate from high school, earn more money and contribute more tax dollars.

For at-risk children who do not participate in high-quality early education, the numbers are chilling - and for policy-makers, expensive:

• 25 percent more likely to drop out of school;

• 40 percent more likely to be a teen parent;

• 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education;

• 60 percent more likely to never attend college; and

• 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

We must never lose sight of the fact that this isn’t about statistics – those numbers are children in all of our communities who never have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

By giving our children an Early Edge, we can reduce the absenteeism of working parents, lower crime rates for juveniles and adults, develop workers with more skills, attract and retain better employees and new businesses to communities, build a stronger future workforce, and increase earnings and tax revenues for employees and employers.

It’s time that Montana catches up with the rest of our nation and makes meaningful investments in our earliest learners.

That’s why I am working on a proposal for the 2015 Legislature for voluntary, universal preschool, open to all 4-year-olds. The plan will include:

• Highly-qualified teachers and staff;

• Safe and nurturing learning environments;

• Family engagement and wrap-around services; and

• Developmentally appropriate curriculum that aligns with what kids will learn in kindergarten.

I am calling on every Montanan with a stake in our future to join me in giving our kids an Early Edge. Talk to your legislators, colleagues, neighbors, and business leaders; tell them that early education is right not only for our children, but for our economy and workforce. And tell them it’s right for Montana.

Please visit www.earlyedgemt.com to pledge your support.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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