Early childhood advocates savor Presidential support

6:44 PM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
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Early Childhood Education student

ST. PAUL, Minn. - An annual rally to advocate on behalf of Minnesota children received some unexpected support this week from the Presidential podium.

On Wednesday, hundreds of children, parents and providers crowded into the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda for the "Voices for Children" event that includes pushing for more early childhood education funding.

Hours earlier, during his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for a nationwide commitment to early childhood education, by pushing for universal preschool.

"I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime," President Obama said on Tuesday night.

"We're so thrilled, and so thrilled that our youngest citizens and youngest Minnesotans are getting the attention they deserve," said Kat Kempe of Think Small, an organization advocating for early childhood education in Minnesota.

Kempe said her organization agrees wholeheartedly with the President's perspective, including the perceived savings involved in making the initial investment.

"We know that when kids start school behind, they stay behind. And being able to have kids start kindergarten fully prepared to learn and be successful gives benefits to the whole community," she said. "It saves the state money over the life of that child, up to a $16 return for every dollar invested in those early years."

And those attending the rally on Wednesday agreed.

"I think that universal access is so important for all kids this age. They're our future leaders. If we don't invest in them, we're not investing in ourselves," said Caroline Kaker, whose 3-year-old son, Quincy, will be going to preschool next year.

Still, the additional education does come at an initial price. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, state and federal preschool programs already cost about $5.49 billion per year. Assuming costs would stay relatively stable, Obama's plan could cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

The President hasn't yet outlined how that cost would be covered.

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