Stritzler Op-Ed: Early Education

Improving tomorrow’s economy is possible only through smart policy investments today in our human capital – beginning with our youngest children.

Businesses need the best and most skilled employees now and into the future. They need workers who will create new products, solve complex problems and motivate teams to succeed. And they need employees who will focus on their jobs and not be distracted because their children are in poor quality care. Communities that spend less tax money on remedial programs attract skilled employees and produce good customers. Businesses also need public policies that support development of next generation jobs in order to continue leading and innovating.

Regretfully, in our society, by the time children turn five we can predict with remarkable accuracy who will graduate high school and college – and those who won’t. But fortunately, with the benefit of sound research by the Federal Reserve Bank and others, we know how to improve the odds of success for our children. Investments in preschool education are the way Vermont can compete with other states for business attractiveness and growth.

Even in challenging economic times businesses understand that it is necessary to invest in their human capital. In this way, businesses can be poised for a fast start when the recovery begins. And the same opportunity exists for Vermont’s state government.

In Vermont today there are over 70 schools that have been identified as underperforming; several of those schools have high-quality preschools whose enrollments have been capped. Why would we willingly cap human potential – or deny any child the earlier opportunity to learn in a nurturing and supportive environment that they may find only at school? Connecting the dots between preschool enrollment and an underperforming school is an easy first step.

Today, unfortunately, in Vermont only 50 percent of young children are officially deemed “ready to learn” at the beginning of kindergarten. That’s an awful lot of stress to load onto the education system right off the bat – and a terrible hole in which children may find themselves. Plus, remedial programs to address language, cognitive, behavioral or other developmental delays are expensive.  But evaluation of public investments in high-quality early childhood programs quickly demonstrates their strategic soundness; the return will be quick – you’ll know by kindergarten.