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Here's a sad fact: since 2001, Massachusetts funding for early childhood education and care has gone down 25 percent. Doesn't say much about how we care for our kids, does it?
Governor Patrick wants to change this. And he will need our--your--help.
The budget proposal outlined last week by the governor calls for $131 million more for early education and care in fiscal year 2014--which sounds like a lot, but would get us to just under where we were in 2001. Over the next three years, he would add $350 million more. There are 30,000 infants, toddlers and preschoolers whose families are eligible for help paying for daycare or preschool that are on a waiting list--this funding would get them off that list and into programs. It would also help improve the quality and availability of programs for the very young--and help support families.
Investing in our children is investing in our future. Sometimes sayings are so trite that we forget that they are true. This one really, really is.
There's tons of evidence that getting an early, strong start on education makes all the difference for children. Kids do best when they are nurtured as infants and toddlers--when their caregivers talk to them, hold them, sing to them, play with them, read to them. They do best when they go to good preschool programs that teach them not just the alphabet but how to take turns and pay attention. I've been a pediatrician for more than twenty years, long enough to watch a lot of children grow up--and it's the ones who get that strong start, and support along the way, that do well in school, stay out of trouble and go to college.
But that strong start and support aren't so easy to come by for many families. Many of my patients come from families that don't have much money. Some don't have much money despite working long hours, sometimes at more than one job. Many of the parents whose children I care for never went to college; some don't speak English. For them, finding good day care and good preschools that they can afford can be very hard. And when they don't, the odds are immediately against their kids.
Over the years, I've watched this play out. I've watched bright kids struggle in school because they didn't have the skills and knowledge other kids have. I've watched them get left back, lose their confidence, and give up. They go from wanting to be doctors to barely graduating, if they do at all. College doesn't happen; they end up in minimum-wage jobs. It's heartbreaking--and really unfair.
If the fairness argument doesn't work for you, how about the economic one? Kids who get a good education are more likely to get a job with a higher income--and contribute more in taxes (and contribute more generally to society). They are less likely to need government assistance and less likely to end up in jail. Education strengthens our economy.
That's the thing: funding education, especially early childhood education, makes both moral sense and financial sense. You don't often get that combo.
But even still, there are going to be people who object, who think it's too much money or who want to use the money for something else. That's where you come in. Call your legislators. Tell them you think giving more money to daycare and education is a really good idea.
It's the right thing to do. Let's do it.
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