The Gainesville Sun: The importance of early childhood education
Quality early childhood programs may seem expensive to provide, but not providing them is even more expensive.
Research has found that every $1 spent on early childhood programs produces around $7 in future benefits to society thanks to fewer crimes, improved educational outcomes and lower costs for social services. These benefits have led 101 Florida mayors to urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to make a greater investment in early childhood education.
The initiative, spearheaded by The Children’s Movement of Florida, encourages DeSantis to prioritize high-quality prekindergarten. Florida voters approved free voluntary pre-K for the state’s 4-year-olds in 2002, but lawmakers haven’t provided the funding and set the standards required to ensure the program is effective.
Last fall, Alachua County voters passed the Children’s Trust initiative to raise local property taxes to fund programs for children. A board charged with making funding decisions is still being established, but early childhood education initiatives are expected to be included.
County government has already helped fund the CHILD Center for Early Learning in the Linton Oaks neighborhood. The center is a collaboration among the Southwest Advocacy Group, the University of Florida’s Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies, O2B Kids and others.
The center serves 57 children and acts as a demonstration site providing training and spreading best practices in early learning. Five additional early learning programs in the area have been identified as “replication sites” for these efforts.
Speakers at a recent fundraising event discussed how the CHILD Center provides Head Start, VPK and extended day services to children along with home visits to their parents and help connect them to needed services. One parent said the center allowed her to work multiple jobs so she could attend college without debt, while giving her 4-year-old daughter the preparation needed for kindergarten well before she starts.
Ensuring all local children are ready for kindergarten will improve educational outcomes in Alachua County Public Schools, including helping close a racial achievement gap. But local support for such efforts only goes so far. While everyone from the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, to Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren have proposed federal programs to reduce the costs of child care, Florida would be foolish to wait for the federal government to act.
The Children’s Movement of Florida seeks additional state funding for Early Steps, which provides services to kids under 3 who are at risk for development problems, and the School Readiness Program, which provides preschool subsidies for low-income children. More than 31,000 students are on a waiting list for the latter program, it reports.
Early learning programs comprise just 1.5 percent of the state budget. Florida would be wise to increase its investment in these programs, allowing Alachua County to further expand services for young children here.
— The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun