North Carolina Poll Says Early Education is an Investment, But Do State Lawmakers Agree?
There is one subject that people can agree on in this volatile political climate, palpably felt more in North Carolina than anywhere else, it seems—the welfare of children. Sure, we come from all sides about exactly how to do this, but the general consensus is that as a nation, as a state, and as a community, we must, above all, protect the children. It admittedly gets murky in the details, but here in North Carolina, the hotbed of contentious politicking and prime time mockery (think the Daily Show and Colbert Report), folks of all political stripes are coming together to support early childhood development and education. And this time, it’s not just campaign trail hot air.
Image Credit: Eli Duke via Flickr
As a vocal education activist myself, it is refreshing to finally embrace this notion that our state’s youngest and most vulnerable must be given the foundation to prepare for success. We cannot just throw children into their school years with no preparation, support, or nurturing. In a recent survey of registered North Carolina voters conducted by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research for the First Five Years Fund and the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, respondents say that ensuring giving children a strong start is life is top priority for our state, second only to the economy and ranking far ahead of reducing taxes. In fact, 83% of North Carolina voters believe that investments in early childhood education will help the state’s economy in the short and long-term. There is, of course, a direct correlation between educating our young and boosting our economy. Our whole community is lifted when we prioritize and invest in education. We don’t need a study to tell us this, though several exist, including this one by Nobel laureate James Heckman. And who am I to argue with a Nobel Prize winning economist who researches the value and effects of early childhood education? Democratic and Republican voters alike agreed to invest in early childhood enrichment programs throughout the state to open up opportunities to middle and low-income families. Just think about the paradigm for these students and families who will benefit from expanding access to Smart Start, Pre-K, teacher training, and home visiting programs. We cannot level the proverbial playing field on all counts but we can influence and create policies that at least reduce the mountains to molehills.Will North Carolina Lawmakers Invest in Education?
The bad news is that an analysis of the North Carolina budget for fiscal year 2015 shows that state legislators aren't investing enough money in education. The report, prepared by the Budget and Tax Center of the North Carolina Justice Center, says that education spending is still 6.6% below pre-recession levels, even though the state is in its fifth year of economic recovery. And there are few funds allocated to expand Pre-K for more students.Currently only 23% of four-year-olds in North Carolina are enrolled in NC Pre-K
Less than one quarter of our children, our state’s future, is getting access to early childhood education. Think basics like socialization as well as color, number, and shape recognition. For those who have not lived in dire economic hardship, it is nearly impossible to imagine your toddler not learning these things. But for many families who face financial crisis day after day, enrolling in pre-school is simply not an option. Their paradigm is different from those who have all resources and opportunities to ensure a strong start in school. The most remarkable notion to come from this joint effort is the paradigm shift to regard children’s welfare as an investment, not an expense. It is exactly that mindset that will propel us as a state and join the slats to bridge our incendiary political differences.
When elected officials don't create policies that reflect the priorities of voters, it's time for mothers to head to the ballot box. Mothers, a key voter target audience, are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports early childhood education. And that’s where hot air turns to action.
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