No nation can achieve its potential for greatness without investing in its human capital. The extent to which children successfully negotiate the treacherous passage to adulthood depends on the earliest years of brain and emotional development. That explains why early childhood education is crucial to society.
America’s current public policy regarding at-risk children is an economic and moral failure:
“We reject community investment programs (implemented today by nearly all developed countries) that stress preventing the creation of at-risk children. Instead we assume colossal costs of corrective measures that mostly fail regardless of how earnestly they are pursued.”
The results of this undocumented policy are many:
1. A child is a work-in-process toward citizenship. A successful citizen adds $5 million of economic value to society in his/her life. If unsuccessful, that person instead costs society several million dollars in expenses. Therefore, the lost opportunity value between a success and a failure is somewhere between $5 and $10 million per child.
2. Young children are humiliated when they read below grade level. A wealthy society that rejects proven programs to avoid the humiliation of children is an immoral society.
3. Children who read by the third grade seldom are ever involved with the criminal justice system. Four of five incarcerated juvenile offenders read two years or more below grade, and a majority are functionally illiterate.
4. America has over two million prison inmates, the highest rate in the world and five to ten times that of European countries. Another five million Americans are involved in the criminal justice system for probation, parole, or supervision, all unproductive activities.
5. Several states forecast needed prison growth based on third grade reading scores. Our federal prisons are operating at 130% of capacity.
6. No industrial nation equals the United States in neglecting the basic needs of working families.
7. Minnesota’s under funded policy to assist low-income families for out of home child care has a waiting list of over 7000 families. This is a sham, not real policy.
When America isn’t fair, it doesn’t work. America is cheating its children.
High quality, universally eligible early childhood education and development similar to that now in place for decades elsewhere would solve the above problems. According to Minneapolis Federal Reserve researchers, no public sector investment of taxpayer money yields the high returns verified for early childhood education.
What are we waiting for?
1. The $5 million lifetime per citizen contribution to America’s society is cited by author Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, page 504.
2. In his key-note speech at the Capitol on January 28, 2009, David Lawrence referred to young children who sense failure when unable to read like their classmates. This is equivalent to humiliation. Policy makers cannot pretend to be ignorant of brain development enhancing early childhood programs. The literature is full of relevant information and it is easy to find.
3. The correlation between reading deficiency and interaction with criminal justice is provided by David Lawrence in his key-note speech cited in number 2 above.
4. Prison population report by Pew Center on the States, Pew Charitable Trust.
5. Several states including California and Arizona use early grade test scores to assist in forecasting required prison capacity growth. Corrections Digest, April 12, 2002 reports Federal Prisons are 131% of design capacity.
6. Among the programs common in peer countries are 1) income of full-time employment provides families above-poverty living standard, 2) universal housing for all families with children, 3) universal health care, 4) paid maternity and parental leave for both parents with guarantee of return to previous job, 5) women’s guaranteed right to breastfeed at work, 6) universal pre-school child care, 7) guaranteed sick leave for illness and family care, 8) minimum of 5 to 6 weeks of paid vacation, 9) taxpayer paid college tuition for qualifying students, 10) protection of children from predatory marketing by consumer product companies.
7. Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Day Care? Cut”, February 13, 2009, page 1.
This Early Childhood Education Manifesto was submitted to KARA by David Strand one year ago. It is even more important this year.
As a personal note to this post, I was required to be part of a court proceedings to remove children from a father whose key problem was that he could not afford day care.
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