Yesterday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a new policy report “The First Eight Years: giving kids a foundation for lifetime success.” This report highlights the importance of investing in young children during crucial brain development stages to set them up for success later in life. It has been shown that every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education produces a 7 to 10% return on the investment every year. In spite of this, federal spending on children has declined and will continue to decline over the next decade. The result will be the lowest investment in young children since the Great Depression.
The first eight years of life are critical years for early childhood education, but in Nebraska only 36% of third graders were reading at grade level in 2011. The rate of below proficiency reading is even worse for low-income children and children of color. Only 21% of low-income children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Falling behind in reading is associated with feeling alienated in school and increased likelihood of failing to graduate from high school and have a successful career as an adult.
Furthermore, between 61 and 63% of low-income Nebraska children are not enrolled in preschool (2009-2011), leading to a greater educational disadvantage when compared to their more affluent peers. With 44% of Nebraska’s kids under 8 living in low-income households, an investment in early childhood education should be a top priority to ensure these kids have all the necessary tools available to them to break the cycle of poverty and succeed in adult life.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation identifies three components of what it takes to help children succeed:
- Support parents as they care for their children.
- Improve access to quality early care and education, health care and other services.
- Ensure that care is comprehensive and coordinated for all children from birth through age 8.
Policy recommendations for improving early childhood accompany each of these three components. The findings from the report suggest that “high-quality childhood programs that include supports for families have a powerful and lasting impact on children as they progress through school and into adulthood.” Voices for Children in Nebraska will continue to fight for early childhood programs and policies in hope that one day, all Nebraska’s kids will have the tools they need to become healthy, successful adults.