OPINION: Early education gives more children the opportunity to succeed

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Much of a child’s brain development occurs in the first three years, according to multiple studies.
So by the time children start school, those who haven’t received early stimulation already have fallen behind their peers.
At a recent forum in Jackson about early childhood education, leaders on the subject told stories of children starting kindergarten who did not know the proper way to hold a pencil or turn a book page.
Among those participating in the forum was Mississippi Building Blocks, a mostly privately funded initiative working to close that gap.
The program, which began in August, provides funds to dozens of private child care providers across the state to support on-site mentors, classroom materials, business consulting for owners and managers and parent consulting.
Among its child care centers are five in Tupelo and one in Verona.
Statistics are being collected about the effectiveness of that initiative. If that data proves successful, its leaders will lobby the Legislature to expand the program.
Leaders at the forum noted the economic benefits the state would reap from a long-term investment in educating its youngest citizens. They will make a similar presentation in Tupelo on March 26.
Studies say that children who earn a college degree will pay at least $278,000 more in taxes in their lifetime than those who drop out of high school. They say that children who are prepared for kindergarten are much more likely to earn that college degree.
Keynote speaker Michael Petro of the Committee for Economic Development said that child care breakdowns leading to employee absences cost businesses $3 billion a year across the nation. Businesses that improved their child care, improved productivity by 63 percent.
Claiborne Barksdale, chief executive officer of the Barksdale Reading Institute, offered another reason to support early childhood education: By the time they are 5 years old, children who have grown up in poverty have heard 30 million to 40 million fewer words than their peers.
Its only fair to reach out to those children to help close that discrepancy.
As Mississippi Building Blocks gets more data, its leaders will analyze whether the program is demanding enough and determine what adjustments it will need to make.
Either way, anything that can be done to reach children during their most formative years will benefit the state economically and give more children the opportunity to succeed.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.