Early Childhood Education Is National Priority

As the nation gears up for the 2016 elections, findings from three recent polls highlight why state and national candidates need a strong platform that supports children and families.

Results from a new bipartisan poll released in October by the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), in partnership with the North CarolinaEarly Childhood Foundation (NCEF), found that voters of all parties share a top national priority: investing in early childhood education.

More than three-fourths of American voters support increasing federal investment to help states expand access to high-quality early childhood programs for low- and moderate-income families — 59 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 94 percent of Democrats.

These results are particularly relevant in North Carolina, where only 35 percent of fourth graders and 22 percent of students from economically disadvantaged families scored at or above reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Edu-cational Progress (NAEP) in 2013. According to this study, grade-level reading is achievable when policies that reflect reading is a cumulative process, developing from birth and rooted in early brain development, are put into practice.

In Transylvania County, kindergarten readiness is tested during the third week of school to give teachers a snapshot of whether those building blocks are in place. Results of the testing at the beginning of the current school year, according to the soon to be released “State of the Child Report” authored by County Manager Jaime Laughter, show that 78 percent of kindergarteners tested below or far below proficiency with Brevard and Rosman Elementary Schools having the highest percentages of below or far below proficiency levels.

In August 2015, the Washington Post reported that the cost of child care is an economic burden for parents. “More than three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the United States say they have passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit to tend to their kids,” the Washington Post survey showed.

The responses underscore that finding affordable, high quality care that supports children’s development and parents’ ability to work is a universal issue affecting families at all income levels:

• Seventy-six percent of parents earning less than $50,000 a year said child care is very or somewhat expensive;

• Seventy-two percent of parents earning greater than $50,000 said the same;

• Fifty-four percent of parents earning less than $50,000 a year said that finding quality and affordable child care is very or somewhat difficult;

• Fifty percent of parents earning greater than $50,000 said the same.

If child care costs feel high to parents that is because they are. When it comes to child care affordability, North Carolina ranks as the 18th least affordable state, according to Child Care Aware America.

The Pew Research Center just released its study about how Americans are balancing family and work life.

The survey of 1,800 parents with children younger than 18 years old showed that more than half (56 percent) of all working parents say the balance is difficult to achieve. On family economics, among working mothers, 41 percent say that being a parent makes it harder to advance their career, and 20 percent of working fathers feel the same way.

These poll results show that early learning efforts are serving the needs of American families as a clear majority of voters agree that with families often needing two incomes to get by and many single parents working more than one job, access to quality early childhood education is a necessity, not a luxury.

“Support for early childhood education is strong — and growing stronger. This year’s FFYF poll results confirm that voters across the country see access to quality early childhood education as a necessity for today’s families, and critical to the future success of their children,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund.

(Castro is the executive director of Smart Start of Transylvania County.)

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