Letter: Quality early education has proven economic benefit for community

We read more and more about “the Jindal administration’s highly touted overhaul of Louisiana’s fractured prekindergarten system” and Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s priority, prekindergarten in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. After hearing these lofty visions for our youngest citizens, elected officials then ask, “How are we going to get the money for prekindergarten?” and “How can we implement higher standards without the necessary funds?”

Delaying answers also delays real work needed to create sufficient quality and intensity in program delivery for prekindergarten.

Education advocates, scholars, and economists continue to report substantial economic benefits from high-quality early education. The results show long-term payoffs including higher graduation rates, reduced need for special education and reduced violent crime and arrests. A few of the many long-term economic returns include increased parental employment with overall increased earned income and increased human capital and productivity (Dr. Steven Barnett, Rutgers Graduate School of Education, 2014). These public gains align closely with longitudinal research by Perry Preschool Education, National Institute for Early Education Research, Abecedarian (30-year study), and Chicago Longitudinal Study. Many of the prekindergarten children in these studies mirror those in EBR public schools — at risk and on free or reduced school food programs. The evidence is clear: Investing in high-quality prekindergarten pays good return on investment. Today’s research shows every dollar invested in high-quality prekindergarten returns an average of $7 to $8. If a stock broker brought this kind of return, few would turn it down.

Yet, educators and elected officials still say, “We can’t afford this.” It is obvious, we can’t afford not to do it. In addition to state and local funding, investments from the private sector would help complete the funding pie for prekindergarten. Such public-private partnerships would achieve high-quality prekindergarten with better trained teachers, excellent school facilities and world-class curriculum materials.

Corporate Baton Rouge and nonprofit organizations, such as ExxonMobil and the Academic Distinction Fund, invest in prekindergarten. ExxonMobil is funding math and science and supports ADF’s distinguished presentations by national speakers.

It is time for other corporations to join state and local efforts to match the vision of high-quality prekindergarten with adequate funding and the expectation of a good return on investment.

It takes several villages to raise a child. Today, it takes the private sector partnering with public entities so our youngest citizens start school healthy and ready to learn.

Martis Jones

executive director Academic Distinction Fund

Baton Rouge