With students heading back to school this week, it’s a good time to revisit one of the best ways to improve education statewide, and in turn improve our communities and our economy: pre-kindergarten.
About half of 4-year-olds in South Carolina get some sort of early childhood education, delivered through a hodgepodge of state and federal programs. It’s time to increase that to cover all of the state’s 4-year-olds.
We’re not alone in that contention. Support for the idea of spending more on early childhood education is growing, particularly among the state’s business community.
“We’ve got to turn our focus on the early childhood piece and change a generation,” said Darrell Scott, vice president with the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday. “We spend a lot of money on the back end, and at some point we’ve got to start spending more on the front end to get those students to continue in school and get them through to the work force.”
Scott, who was in town to talk about legislative priorities with the local chambers of commerce, said his group had recently met with the leaders of the state’s technical colleges. Those educational leaders, Scott said, told the chamber the state needs to produce more students who can succeed in higher education and move into the more specialized and technical jobs that the state is attracting. That effort begins with early childhood education.
It may seem like a small thing, but starting children in schooling at a young age can pay big dividends. Research has shown that children offered some form of pre-kindergarten program are less likely to drop out of school, more likely to graduate on time and much less likely to become repeat criminal offenders. That head start also makes students less likely to need special education and saves up to $3,700 per child over the K-12 years.
From a business perspective, that improved education means a more capable work force and, in turn, more affluent consumers. Ready Nation, a business group dedicated to promoting early childhood education, estimates that states with pre-kindergarten available to all see a return of $2.78 for every $1 invested in the program. The new legislative session begins in January. Legislators looking to create a better environment for the state’s residents and its businesses should pay attention.