Early learning helps kids, campaigns and communities

Like most parents, I want my 17-month old twins, Jackson and Caroline, to have the best chance at future success.

As research shows, the best way to achieve that success is access to quality early learning. In fact, a strong majority of voters in Florida agree on the importance of high-quality early childhood education in a child’s life. A recent poll shows wide-ranging support in Florida and across the country for increased investments in early learning.

The best part is, there is little partisan divide in this data — a theme that plays out consistently through the survey — as 92 percent of participants in Florida said the years zero to 5 are extremely or very important to the learning and development of a child. That represents a majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats.

It’s encouraging to see that so many Floridians recognizing how important this issue really is to the challenges we face as a community, such as crime, unemployment and educational inequality. We know that children living in poverty who don’t participate in quality early education programs are 25-percent more likely to drop out of school, and 60-percent more likely to never attend college.

While 80 percent of Florida’s 4-year olds were enrolled in pre-kindergarten in 2014, we ranked 36th in the nation for state spending per child enrolled in Pre-K. In fact, that funding level has decreased by 21 percent since 2008. Also concerning is that even basic standards for early learning providers has repeatedly failed in the Legislature, despite support from all sides.

We need to do better.

Voters are supportive, but that’s not enough. We need to call on our lawmakers from each party during the upcoming 2016 Legislative Session to work together to make increased access to high-quality early learning programs a state priority.

Though funding for these needed programs can sometimes be an obstacle in this discussion, Save the Children Action Network has recently released a wide-ranging list of innovative mechanisms that could help pay for expanded early childhood education at the federal, state and local levels. We can and must find ways to make the investments our children need to have the best chance at success.

In Tallahassee, we have already begun taking action.

Today marks the third day of Family First Week, a week-long focus on raising awareness about early childhood learning, which builds off efforts started at our community Summit on Children. We are hoping these events and opportunities can help to continue the momentum we are building around greater investments in children and families, and believe strongly that our work to locally improve the quality, access, and culture around early childhood development will serve as a model for the state of Florida.

High-quality early childhood education is an imperative issue for all sectors of society, and one that public concern is growing around. We would all be wise to listen to the people and invest in kids.

Our nation’s future depends on it.


Andrew Gillum is mayor of Tallahassee.