Early childhood education called essential for productive workforce
CHEYENNE – If employers want employees capable of meeting and adapting to their needs, they should support early childhood education programs in Wyoming, advocates told those attending Gov. Matt Mead’s Business Forum Tuesday.
Wyoming is one of only six states that don’t have an investment in early childhood education programs targeted at pre-kindergarten aged children, said Skip Oppenheimer, Idaho Business for Education chairman. Oppenhiemer, chairman and CEO of Oppenheimer Companies in Boise, Idaho, is also a member of ReadyNation, a national business organization with more than 1,000 representatives seeking to improve the workforce through better policies for at-risk children and youth.
Oppenheimer said studies show the higher cognitive functions peak at age five and children who lack quality early experiences will lag behind their peers as they mature.
“In Idaho, almost half the children there arrive in kindergarten not ready to read, not ready to learn, period,” Oppenheimer said. “If almost half the children are not ready to learn, that has significant implications.”
He compared the situation to a road race where half the kids are ready to start the race and when the starting gun goes off while the other half are a mile behind and may never catch up. He said those who are ready for learning are affected as well.
“If I’m a kindergarten teacher, I basically have two classrooms,” Oppenheimer said. “Half of the children are ready to learn and half aren’t. The results show up 4-5 years later in our reading scores. Two-thirds are at or below basic and Wyoming results are similar to that. This cascades forward through those children’s career at school. The numbers are actually worse at the eighth-grade level. Of course that affects their ability to be successful as it relates to their employment opportunities.”
It’s difficult for policymakers to commit funds to long-term term programs when they have immediate challenges in funding prison, law enforcement and K-12 and higher education needs, he said, but policymakers shouldn’t overlook the short-term benefits.
Oppenheimer said studies estimate for every $1 committed to early childhood education, as much as $2 is returned to the economy through an increase in related jobs and spending on goods and services. In the long-term, programs and intervention efforts can reduce the cost to society $18,000-$26,000 per child through reduced crime and fewer social programs.