Coloradans want more access to early learning programs

Positive early learning experiences are critical for children to be successful in both school and life. Growing up in Pueblo, I remember my South Park kindergarten teacher Mrs. Allen. She not only made learning fun with group games and a high-quality curriculum, but she made her classroom a nurturing environment that was a safe haven for at-risk children who had nowhere else to go. She helped us have fun, play well together, learn letters and numbers, and follow directions.

Skills such as learning how to match and sort, being a good friend, and gaining the confidence to explore are part of the essential building blocks that help children boost their vocabularies and meet 3rd grade reading standards. Studies have shown that children who are reading at grade level with strong comprehension are more likely to graduate high school, avoid teen pregnancy, and stay out of jail.

Research from economists, and neuro and social scientists shows the earlier a child can benefit from high-quality early learning programs, such as child care and preschool, the more likely they will be successful not only in kindergarten but throughout their school years.

Coloradans understand the link between early learning and a successful life. In a recent poll by Save the Children Action Network, 69 percent of Colorado voters want more kids in preschool and believe that working families should receive more help to better afford their child care.

Because most of a child’s brain development happens in the first five years of life, access to quality child care and preschool for working parents is a must to ensure children are ready to succeed when they start school. Many times, children who don’t have access to these programs show up on their first day of kindergarten already behind. From that day forward, the gaps will continue to widen. These children will spend the rest of the school year trying to catch up to their peers who have already made friends, expanded their vocabularies, and are building their self-esteem as a result.

Unfortunately, only 54 percent of low-income children in our state are being served by preschool programs. That means more than 29,000 of Colorado’s most vulnerable children have no access to programs that have been proven to benefit at-risk kids.

Colorado voters already know what the research shows: investing in high-quality early education is the most effective way to break the cycle of poverty and ensure equal opportunity for all of our families. That’s why 70 percent of Colorado voters said they would expand funding so the lowest-income 4-year-olds who want to go to preschool can.

There are strong social and economic benefits to high-quality early childhood education programs. Research from Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. James Heckman has found the rate of return on investment in early childhood development for many children can be 13 percent per child, per year, due to improved outcomes in education, health, sociability and economic productivity.

People here know that without children who are prepared for college and future careers, we will be deprived of the innovative leaders our state needs to grow our economy.

As a Pueblo native, who had the advantage of learning from dedicated teachers who cared deeply about the children who sat in their classrooms, I know that a high-quality early education can make all the difference in a child’s life.

That is why I work for Save the Children Action Network, a bipartisan organization that stands side-by-side with Coloradans demanding that our elected officials, regardless of political affiliation, invest in our most precious resource, our children.

Tara Trujillo is the state director for Save the Children Action Network, a political advocacy organization that works to ensure that all children in the U.S. have access to quality early learning programs.

Originally posted in the Pueblo Chieftain.