Guest Commentary: Early-childhood education an investment

Guest Commentary: Early-childhood education an investment

By J.B. PRITZKER

Quality early-childhood education provides the foundation and tools our children need to build better lives. It is the right thing to do and one of the most fiscally sound investments we can make in our state's future. That's why I was disheartened to read The News-Gazette's Aug. 14 editorial about early-childhood education.

The editorial cites a 1966 study by sociologist James Coleman, which argued that family background has a far greater impact on a child's development than schooling. While revolutionary at the time, this study was completed in the midst of desegregation and just a year after the Head Start program began.

As someone who has spent the past 20 years advocating for early-childhood education, I can say that this is a fast-changing field and historical context is significant. Parent involvement is critical to child development, but current research shows that it is not the only factor in a child's success.

My comprehensive early-childhood education plan is based off recent research by James Heckman. It isn't a plan to throw money at the problem — it is an investment in what we know works.

Research shows early-childhood education increases a child's economic, social and health outcomes. Over the short and long term, it helps children with school readiness, improves high school graduation rates for teens and has positive career and health benefits for adults. Heckman's research indicates that investing in high-quality birth-to-5 programs can generate a 13 percent return. That's huge.

More than that, my plan is a two-generation approach. It recognizes that parents are a part of the solution, and it seeks to educate and support them as well. Through expanding the reach of voluntary home visiting services, helping parents with child care and providing a family engagement portal where new parents can access information they need, my plan helps both our children and our parents succeed.

We can't afford to live in a state where a child's future is determined before they start kindergarten. We can't afford to fail our children before they have a chance.

Every child in this state deserves the tools they need to build better lives, and my plan expands and strengthens those tools. It helps close the achievement gap and provides ladders of opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class.

There is no better investment we can make in strengthening all of our families and charting a better future for our state. You say we can't afford to do this. I say we can't afford not to.

J.B. Pritzker of Chicago is seeking the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor.