Coalition: Spend more on early education

The cost of providing quality early childhood care and education to Missouri’s pre-schoolers is estimated to cost $1.9 billion, according to a report released this week by the non-profit organization America’s Edge.

But, because so much of that funding would be spent locally, the impact of making such a public investment is estimated to generate $3.5 billion in total new spending for the state’s economy.

On Tuesday, a group of lawmakers and business leaders gathered in the Missouri Capitol Rotunda to promote the idea that government should expend more resources on Missouri’s smallest children, because it would pay serious dividends over the long haul.

Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, has introduced a couple of bills that would allow Missouri’s school districts that operate pre-kindergarten programs to receive state funding through the foundation formula for students between the ages of 3 and 5. One of the bills would provide the funding for students who are eligible for free- and reduced-priced school lunches; that bill comes with a fiscal note of $71.3 million to $285 million. The other bill would make the funding available to all of Missouri’s pre-school aged children; that bill comes with a fiscal note of $142.6 billion to $570.4 billion.

Keaveny said the true cost of expanding the program isn’t known, because it’s likely that expanding will serve as an incentive for school districts to create pre-school education programs that don’t currently exist.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, — who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee — said it’s likely his committee will vote one of Keaveny’s bills out on Wednesday (today).

“That says, as a state, we think it’s important,” Pearce said.

According to the America’s Edge report, research studies demonstrate that children who have access to high-quality early learning programs are better prepared for elementary school, require less special education, are held back less often in school, graduate at higher rates from both high school and college, are less likely to be criminals and finding it easier to keep jobs.

The report also shows that for every $1 invested in early care and education in Missouri, a total of $1.87 is generated in spending in the state. According to the report, the reverse is also true: Every $1 cut from early learning results in a total loss of $1.87 from local businesses.

Jonathan Freiden, CEO of U.S. Toy Company, and Tom Rose, owner of Rolling Hills Veterinary Hospital, were two of the businessmen who attended Tuesday’s press conference. Freiden talked about the “skills gap” that is growing between what employers need and what employees can do.

“In today’s economy, we need qualified workers with both hard skills and ‘soft skills’ — such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking,” Freiden said. “High-quality early learning lays the foundations for the development of those skills.”

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