We stand up for a Massachusetts where everyone gets a fair shot, does and pays their fair share, and plays by the same rules.
Here’s an Op-Ed that was published over the weekend in the Berkshire Eagle and South Coast Today.
It’s an idea whose time has come: It’s time for preschool for all.
Every child should get a fair shot, and that begins with a quality education. As researchers and experts discover more about how kids learn, they are focusing more on the first five years, before kids start kindergarten. Especially as researchers try to understand the achievement gap between higher and lower income students, they are taking a hard look at early childhood development.
New research released last month showed that children from low-income families are exposed to 30 million fewer words compared to their wealthier peers. This has a huge impact that resounds throughout a child’s whole academic life. If we want to help each child reach their potential, we have to level the playing field for the youngest kids.
Here’s the rub: Only 26 percent of Massachusetts’ kids attend public preschool. And as a young father, I can surely attest that private care is very pricey. The average cost to send a four-year-old to an early learning center in Massachusetts is $11,669 per year. Yikes.
That’s why what happened on Wednesday is so important. Congress introduced the bipartisan “A Strong Start for America’s Children” aimed at expanding preschool access across the country. The bill would especially assist children in low-income families and help build better education standards.
Even though Massachusetts leads the nation in reading and math scores, there are some troubling signs. Overall, 53 percent of fourth graders scored below “proficient” in reading, which hardly seems awesome. In Holyoke, only 13 percent of kids tested as “proficient.” Adding urgency to this alarming statistic is the fact that budget cuts have reduced the number of children being served by Head Start early learning programs by 2,015 across the state. If we do nothing, we can expect the achievement gap to get worse.
The time for early education for all is now, and any cop, prosecutor, business leader, teacher or economist can tell you why. When children participate in high-quality early learning programs in the first five years of life, they do better in school, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs and contribute more to the economy. Such programs improve health; reduce the need for special education, educational remediation and welfare; reduce high school dropouts, juvenile justice and incarceration rates; and increase home ownership, employment and economic productivity.
It’s not just about helping children, although for me, that would be enough. It’s also about making our economy stronger and our workers more capable of competing in a global economy. Think of the prosperity that will flow from a strong education system if the U.S. 10 years from now found herself with the world’s best and strongest early childhood education programs.
Massachusetts’ leadership is critical here. Our entire congressional delegation should join in and support Strong Start for Americans Children. State leaders have worked hard to put a quality, accountable system in place, but it doesn’t reach enough students due to limited funding. It’s time we acted together to provide early education to all.
Nathan Proctor is state director for Massachusetts Fair Share.