Feb 15, 2017Brattleboro Reformer | VTDigger
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chloe Learey, the executive director of The Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development in Brattleboro. She served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High-Quality, Affordable Child Care.
The idea that there is a positive return on investment in early childhood programs is not new, and it provides an excellent rationale for Gov. Phil Scott’s proposals in his budget to increase funding in this realm. A recent report from the Vermont Business Roundtable concludes that “Society would receive $3.08 for every additional dollar invested by Vermont’s government in the expansion of ECL (early care and learning) programs. After deducting costs, each child would produce more than $52,000 in lifetime benefits to society.”
The challenge is how to fund the investment in early care and learning, as well as higher education, without reducing resources for the K-12 system. As the state and local communities grapple with challenges such as Act 46 implementation, a greater understanding of how early care and learning fits into the education continuum is sorely needed. Years of research has shown that children who spend their early years in safe, healthy, nurturing and stimulating environments with plenty of opportunities to play, explore and develop strong relationships are successful in grades K-12.
An integrated family-centered approach is what is needed to reap the full benefits of any public funding of early childhood education.
Education for very young children is not sitting in a classroom learning letters and numbers. Everything in a young child’s life is education! From meal time to playing, and even diaper changing, children are learning the social-emotional skills they need to be ready for and successful in kindergarten and beyond. Parents are their child’s first and most important teacher, so it is critical that families have resources, skills and knowledge they need to help their child develop. Public funding of early care and learning does not have to mean replicating the public school system for the birth to 5 set.
Support of early childhood involves building a holistic approach, working with the whole family, meeting them where they are, understanding their environment, and offering support where needed to help them be the best parents they can be. Helping parents be successful has benefits beyond optimal child development. For instance, the strain on our community from the number of children in foster care is unsustainable. The most fundamental preventive work we can do to slow that trend is to invest in early childhood services which support child and family development. When families have what they need then their children do as well. This is the difference that organizations like The Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development makes every day for families. This is why the investment needs to impact all of the services and supports offered – from early care and learning to family support to health care (including mental health).
An integrated family-centered approach is what is needed to reap the full benefits of any public funding of early childhood education. A child’s brain has developed 80 percent by age 3, long before they enter kindergarten, and before they are even eligible for public preschool funding in Vermont. Pitting players in the education realm against one another simply creates a false competition and detracts from the needed funding solution. Let’s make sure our investment represents the continuum of early care and learning in a holistic way. We cannot afford to do otherwise.