Georgia’s popular lottery-funded pre-k program is 20 this year. AJC staff writer Nancy Badertscher is looking for parents and teachers in metro Atlanta who would be willing to share their thoughts and be quoted on whether they believe the program is making children more ready for school or not. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In conjunction with that theme, here’s an essay on the 20th anniversary by John Harbin, a partner with the law firm King & Spalding.
By John Harbin
All around the state this month, leaders can be found in Georgia’s pre-K classrooms reading a favorite children’s book to 4-year-olds sitting cross-legged on the floor. It’s more than a photo opportunity for the local newspaper. It’s a strong show of support for what is a proven fact: Early childhood education has a profoundly positive impact on our state’s economic health.
Twenty years ago, a statewide pre-kindergarten program was created that touched 750 at-risk 4-year-olds and their families. Within three years the program expanded to all 4-year-olds in the state, and today, our state invests more than $300 million to serve nearly 84,000 children enrolled in Pre-K programs.
It’s money well spent. Numerous studies of the long-term outcomes of participants in early childhood programs have established beyond question the benefits to the individuals and to society. One of the best-known studies from the mid-1960s, The Perry Preschool Project, tracked 3 and 4-year-olds through age 40. The study showed impressive returns in the form of increased earnings, reduced special education and welfare costs, increased income taxes, and the really big savings, reduced crime.
As a business leader in Georgia, that gets my attention.
Experts say that children who lack the necessary literacy and language skills by the third grade simply don’t catch up. These are the children teachers predict will drop out of high school, likely ending up asunwed parents, on the streets or in jail. Unfortunately, these predictions are fairly accurate.
So if we can help more children start kindergarten with the foundation for learning they need, we’ll also be helping fourth grade achievement, eighth grade achievement, high school graduation rates, college acceptance and completion and, ultimately, the workforce and our economy.
Early childhood education is a topic that has caught the attention of some of the top economists in the country, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.
“The benefits of early childhood programs are not just short-term in nature,” Bernanke said at a national conference in July. “Careful studies demonstrate that early interventions can have a positive effect on young children … that lasts well into adulthood.” Bernanke went on to say that children who attend a high-quality preschool program are, as adults, “more economically successful — for example, more likely to own their own homes — than nonparticipants.”
The business community and military leaders are in agreement on the importance of early childhood education. Mission: Readiness, an organization of senior level, retired military personnel committed to smart investments in our children, strongly supports early childhood education. It states in a recent report that 75 percent of young Americans ages 17-24 are unable to join the military, primarily because they are poorly educated, physically unfit, or involved in crime. The report says leaders across the country should act now to ramp up both the quantity and quality of early education programs because “increased investments in high-quality early education are essential for our national security.”
As the chairman of the board of Voices for Georgia’s Children, a nonprofit child policy and advocacy organization, I work closely with people who have made it their life mission to support the education of our children, particularly those up to age five. Georgia’s top governmental leaders are committed to supporting Georgia’s pre-K programs and early childhood education, and they are proving that this week. Thank you Gov. Nathan Deal and other state leaders for taking the time to be in our pre-K classrooms. It’s not only an investment in our children, it’s an investment in Georgia’s future.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog