Our household is still talking basketball, even though our Coastal Carolina season is long over and the last game of the NBA season has been played. Our discussion is as usual consumed with statistics - numbers of rebounds per minute, free throw percentages, three point scores per season, etc. These numbers are important to anyone who is a fan of basketball, but they are especially important to someone whose livelihood depends on the achievements measured by those numbers.
Cliff and I have discovered that there are some other numbers that are even more significant to our lives. For instance, 90 percent of a child's mental and emotional and social development is determined by the time that she is 4 years old. If a child reads on grade level by the time he is in the third grade, he is 85 percent more likely to graduate from high school. Research demonstrates that for every dollar invested in quality early childcare and education, society gets a return of from $8 to $16 in reduced costs of dependency and increased productivity. Much of this return on investment is long term, but there are many returns on that investment that are more immediate. Children who go to school prepared to succeed are less likely to repeat a grade at a cost of over $9,000 per year and are less likely to be placed in special education classes that are more expensive to manage and staff than regular education classes.
I am a mother and know from experience the importance of nurturing children when they are young. I am an English teacher by training and experience and understand the importance of the teaching/learning encounter. It has not taken much persuasion to convince me that commitment to funding all education, but especially early education, is important to the success of individuals.
What is surprising is that it is difficult to convince everyone that this commitment to funding early childcare and education should be a priority for the sake not only of the individual, but for the sake of us all. Even those who are not educators should recognize that attention to and support of this part of our society's efforts can do more than just about anything else we do to improve culture and the economy. The return on investment would be from two to four times the return on our state's investment in luring industry here. And luring industry here will be easier if we will demonstrate our determination to build an educated workforce by beginning with their preparation when it is most efficacious.
In these difficult economic times, doing the wise thing with our money is even more important than in the flush times. Unfortunately, finding funds to invest wisely in home insulation is a challenge when paying the heating bill is questionable. Of course, the best, most cost effective thing to do is exactly that. Similarly, not only can money spent on early childcare and education avoids unnecessary duplication of training for children. It can help people who are trying to get education pay for childcare for their children; funds spent on unemployment benefits could be saved if people become better educated and better employed. In fact, budgeting can be smarter if we prioritize early childcare and education.
And there is potential help for our state budget when it comes to prioritizing early childcare and education. We can design a good program, using the talents of agencies already working in our state to address this issue - First Steps and The Children's Trust, among them - and use this plan to apply for Race to the Top funding. The U.S. Department of Education is offering states the chance to design these programs according to the state's definitions of what would work in the particular state, not according to California or D.C. Some of that money is money that I have paid in. I want it here to address a need that I think is critical to a state that I have come to love, South Carolina.
We need to bring to this issue the enthusiasm that the people behind me in the stands at Coastal Carolina games and the people in Duke's Cameron Indoor bring to a basketball game. We need to vigorously support all of the agencies in our communities that work creatively and diligently to spark the fire of learning in our children and to undergird the parents of our children. We need to lobby Superintendent of Education Mick Zais to support the application for Race to the Top funds. We need to convince our state legislators to urge Zais to support the application for the funds. We need to find every way we can to help our children be all they can be. It is good for them. It is good for us all. It is a slam dunk.
The writer lives in Murrells Inlet