1:05 PM EST, February 19, 2013
During this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress and the American people to make early education expansion a priority. Raising children and providing them a high quality education is not an easy job for parents. And it can be an expensive job because eligibility for pre-school subsidies are quite limited. At Chicago Commons, I have witnessed low-income families turn down raises at their jobs because they would have made them ineligible for state child care subsidies. This is backwards.
The president’s plan would create universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds from low- and middle-income families. The president is right that “the lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.”
At Chicago Commons we have proven the corollary to this; we have seen thousands of children from low-income households in West Humboldt Park, Pilsen and Back of the Yards develop a passion for learning in our pre-school and Head Start programs and then grow up to lead successful, fulfilling lives, resisting the culture of gangs and guns. At Chicago Commons, high percentages met or exceeded expectations for kindergarten readiness: 90 percent in social emotional and gross motor skills; 89 percent in language and cognitive domains; 81 percent in math; and 91 percent in literacy.
Recent studies have shown that out of 34 countries, U.S. students ranked 25th in math and 21st in science — hardly commensurate with our nation’s status as a global leader. And in Chicago, nearly half of all teens do not graduate from high school, and 46 percent of our children start kindergarten without the skills they need to continue learning. According to economist James Heckman, the investment in our children yields a 10 percent return, decreasing crime, violence, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy.
It is time for us to move the research and conversations around early education into action. And that action is an investment.
— Dan Valliere, executive director, Chicago Commons