“Children are our future” – how many times have we heard or said those words without examining the true meaning behind them? More than a mere cliché, that four-word phrase is in fact a direct link between early education and its impact on a region’s prospective economic development.
Participation in high-quality early education and care programs increases a child’s likelihood of graduating from high school, attaining a college degree and ultimately being gainfully employed – all important factors for the long-term economic health of the Commonwealth in general and areas of the state, in specific, including Plymouth and the Cape.
Access to early childhood education and care is a workforce issue, an economic development matter and a sound business imperative. It can increase the supply of qualified workers while reducing the demand and cost of remedial services. But to achieve desired results and return on investment, expanding access to early education and care must be coupled with ensuring that these programs are of high quality.
A child’s first five years of life are the most critical in terms of brain development; if the proper nurture and support for optimal development isn’t received, a child may never catch up to more fortunate socioeconomic peers.
High school enrollment in Massachusetts is projected to decrease over the next several years; not only will there be fewer high school students, but a rapidly growing proportion of students will come from communities of color that have long faced systemic barriers to getting a college degree.
And according to a report issued by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, the state will face a decline in its college-educated workforce, unless college graduation rates are raised for all students. The report states that “college graduation rates for students of color remain troublingly low, with little system-level change over the years.”
Closing the achievement gap is more important now than ever, something Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo underscored a couple years ago when forming the Advisory Council on Early Education and Care, comprised of legislative representatives who consult with the Commissioner of Early Education and Care on required programs and plans to help alleviate disparity.
Life’s scales are not always balanced. There are children in our region born into households where the challenges are many. They are the most vulnerable among us, and without the proper education and care may not have the opportunity to achieve personal success – and contribute to the success of the economy.
Sheri Adlin is the executive director of South Shore Stars (www.southshorestars.org), a not-for-profit organization that has been a resource for working parents on the South Shore since 1970.