Pre-kindergarten significantly reduces the illiteracy problem facing children, which continues throughout their lives. There is no question that children's reading and other learning habits are greatly enhanced by attending Pre-K. Children are our future. In Florida, the future is bleak.
Children who attend high-quality Pre-K enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not. Research demonstrates that 90 percent of the brain development comes before the age of 5.
Also, every child should have some sort of group experience before starting kindergarten. This makes for an easier transition to kindergarten; they hit the ground running.
Recent research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child's brain, and the first three years are the most critical in shaping the child's brain architecture. Children learn more quickly during their early years than any other time in life.
Pre-K is so important, it is part of Florida's Constitution. Article IX Section 1 (b) provides:
"Every four-year old child in Florida shall be provided by the State a high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity in the form of an early childhood development and education program which shall be voluntary, high quality, free, and delivered according to professionally accepted standards."
Although "high quality" is used twice in the Constitution, Florida's voluntary pre-kindergarten program remains among the poorest funded nationally.
Florida spends half as much as the national average for pre-K programs, ranking 35 out of 39 states.
The Florida Constitution requires the Pre-K program to be free. However, it is only free three hours per day for a school year. If a child attends a full day in the public school the parents must pay over $2,000 per year.
The cost of a full-day Pre-K is often too great of a burden for low-income, working parents. Picking up their child at noon may prevent them from attending Pre-K a half day.
The National Institute for Early Education at Rutgers University reports that Florida's voluntary pre-K program is a "paradox." Florida's enrollment is high but gives a program that meets only three of the institute's 10 quality standards. Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, among others, meet all 10 benchmarks.
Some citizens who do not have Pre-K age children or grandchildren feel this issue does not affect them. You often hear people say they supported and paid taxes while their children attended school and no longer believe it is their obligation.
The opponents of publicly funded pre-K programs also argue that it is the parent's responsibility to prepare the child for kindergarten. Certainly it is the responsibility of the parents but unfortunately many are incapable. Studies show that a third of adults in America are either functionally or marginally illiterate.
Illiterate parents cannot prepare their child for kindergarten nor can they read letters sent home from the teachers or help their child with their homework assignments. Often the illiteracy cycle goes unbroken for generations.
Illiteracy affects every citizen in some manner, either directly or indirectly. We all should care.
Economists tell us that human capital is more important than physical capital for long-term economic development. Weak educational systems won't ruin the country overnight, but prolonged incompetence will eventually prove consequential.
Educational funding in the U.S. has been in decline over the past 50 years. In the 1950s the U.S. scored second in literacy among the 20 highest income countries participating in testing; today we are near the bottom.
The economic welfare of our country is not the only reason literacy is so important.
The correlation between crime and illiteracy is well known to criminologists and sociologists throughout the world. For this reason jails and prisons all over the country have inmate literacy programs. Doesn't it make more economic sense to teach reading before they are incarcerated if it might prevent a life of crime?
Two-thirds of students in the U.S. who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. The fourth grade is the watershed year. Eighty-five percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile system are functionally illiterate and over 70 percent of all prison inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level (U.S. Department of Justice statistics).
The costs of the criminal justice system combined with the losses victims suffer from crime are staggering. A new crime study published in the University of Chicago's Journal of Law and Economics found that crime in the U.S. costs $1.2 trillion annually, which does not include the loss to crime victims. Never before has the idiomatic expression "penny wise and pound foolish" been more applicable.
Imagine how much money we could save, just in the criminal justice system, if we provided "free high quality" Pre-K for every child.
Maybe someday the Florida Legislature will honor the Constitution in regards to the meaning of "high quality" and "free" and together with other states adequately fund Pre-kindergarten programs.
By Thomas M. Gallen, of Bradenton, a former Florida state senator and representative, and a senior judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.
Source: Bradenton Herald - http://goo.gl/vyznx