Governor Eric Holcomb recently signed into law an expansion of funding for Indiana’s On My Way Pre-K programs, an indicator of the state’s growing support for early childhood education. As a result, 15 additional counties will be added to the school readiness initiative, including many in northern Indiana: St. Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko, DeKalb and Marshall.
As one among many PNC advocates for early childhood education, I welcome the additional resources to extend young children’s early learning. The support comes at the right time in a young child’s development. The brain is not fully formed at birth, but instead builds 700-1,000 new neural connections per second during the first few years of life as a child interacts with the outside world.
The effect of all this learning and development is nearly invisible to the eye. But the impact on children is immeasurable and often shapes their chances of success in school and life.
Early Learning is Essential
An engaging learning environment is especially relevant for young children. At home, interactions with family members through conversations and play help build vocabulary and the pathways that shape the brain’s ability to organize information. However, a Stanford University study showed income-based disparities in children’s vocabularies by 18 months of age. By age 2, children from lower-income households fell six months behind children in higher-income homes with regard to how quickly they process language.
Fortunately, at-risk pre-K children are more likely to do well when they have access to a quality early education.
Recent research co-authored by Nobel laureate James Heckman further shows that investing in such programs can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment – a net, long-term benefit of more than $700,000 for every disadvantaged child served. That benefit comes via reduced need for special education and grade repetition, higher wages, increased high school graduation rates and even reduced crime.
School readiness is not an issue we resolve by simply offering pre-k to more at-risk children. As we make these investments, we recognize that they must support high quality early childhood education. By quality, we refer to teacher qualifications and their ongoing professional development, classroom environment and resources, class size and low staff-child ratios. Pre-K educators, in concert with parents and families, can deliver quality early learning opportunities to help children reach their full potential.
And yet, educators, parents and the state cannot be the only ones ensuring that young children get the right start to life. Even the private sector has a role to play in this important issue. Our investment to help teachers build a foundation for high-quality learning was made as part of PNC Grow Up Great®, a $350 million, bilingual multi-year school readiness initiative for children from birth to age 5. Through the program, we will continue to enrich early learning for the benefit of our youngest students. While other business leaders across the state have created similar strides and contributions, we urge more of our fellow business leaders to join us.
As invested members of this community, I ask you to become advocates for quality early education. A well-educated workforce will create opportunities to support a strong economy, keep our state competitive and ensure stability. Like those who came before us, our children have the potential to become the next, great generation.
Learn more about early childhood education and your child’s future. Join your voice with ours. We thank the governor and our legislators for their additional commitment to school readiness. With the right investments and proper preparation, our children’s success will match our equally lofty expectations for them.
Corinna Ladd is Northern Indiana Regional President of PNC Bank.