In today's modern and progressive society it is almost impossible to believe that less than 40% of U.S. children enter school with the skills necessary to succeed. Young children who don't have these skills usually come from low income or at risk backgrounds, and they are at a great disadvantage as they are less likely to succeed academically, professionally, and personally in the future. In this sense, it is essential to understand that in order to reduce high school dropout rates and increase responsiveness and success among students we must begin by improving access to existing early childhood education programs, and implementing innovative, affordable, and superior measures that stress the importance of a proper and well-rounded preschool education.
Our federal government has taken notice of this pressing reality and in a joint effort between the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Presidential Early Learning Council - a series of programs have been launched that are designed to ensure that our children have a strong foundation in both educational and social-emotional aspects of development. Some of the most prominent and relevant of these programs are:
- Early Reading Firsts: This program is designed to provide competitve grants to school districts and pre-school programs around the nation. The funds coming from grants are to be used to support mental and academic development and reading skills of preschool-aged children who come from low-income families.
- Special Education Preschool Grants program: Offers grants to organizations designed to support early childhood programs that provide services needed to prepare young children with disabilities to enter and succeed in school.
- Ready to Learn Television: Designed to facilitate student academic achievement by supporting the distributions of educational videos to elementary school children and their families.
- Foundation for Learning Grants: This program supports projects and initiatives that focus on the emotional, social, and behavioral development of children that are about to start school.
- Head Start and Early Head Start: These are comprehensive child development programs that serve children from birth to age 5, pregnant women, and their families. The goal of these programs is to get low-income kids ready for school and provide them with the necessary resources to succeed.
- Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG): This is the primary monetary source of United States federal funding that helps subsidize child care costs for low income children under the age of 13.
These programs have proven to be very successful and useful, and many states have taken advantage of numerous grants and resources readily available to improve early childhood education. States like Arizona, Illionis, and Vermont have implemented programs that not only prove to be very efficient and beneficial, but that also have a great impact on the daily lives of thousands of children. In the specific case of Vermont, programs like Early Education Iniative, Essential Early Education, and Even Start Family Literacy are great and ideal examples of how a state can make use of local and federal resources to implement initatives that promote the wellbeing and proper development of preschool aged children. These programs do a wonderful job at targeting and identifying at risk populations, and assisting organizations that are willing and able to work for the betterment of the community. Additionally, they are easily accessible and they visibly advertise what they do and what they stand for. For example, programs like Early Education Initiative provide clear and definite guidelines that outline the process to applu to different grants and that can be easily accessed online. This is of great importance as it lets the community kow that they are not only working towards improving early childhood education, but that they are also highly interested in expanding and getting involved with other local organizations.
Just like many other states, South Carolina understands the importance of effective early childhood programs and it is slowly trying to implement new measures that strive towards reaching this goal. Programs like First Steps have worked diligently to improve early education, educate low income families, improve child care quality, and increase awareness of the health needs of young children; however there is more work to be done. Standardized test results from last year show that almost 20% of third graders scored below passing conditions. This statistic is not only worryingly high, but it is also a direct reflection of the lack of proper and competent early childhood education in South Carolina. In this sense, it is important understand that time, academic resources and money need to be invested not only to lower the troublesome number, but also to improve the lives of our children. It has been scientifically proven that the education that we receive from ages 0 to 5 has a major impact on our cognitive, academic, and social skills. Investing in early childhood education not only makes sense from the social aspect, but it is also highly beneficial from the economic and political aspect. By investing in the future generations, we are contributing to the development of responsible, conscious, and proactive individuals who have the neccessary tools to succeed in life.
Questions? Contact UWASC Public Policy Intern, Rafael Guiterrez.