Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Early childhood education focus of Solano forum

By Karen Nolan/ KNolan@TheReporter.com/Posted:   05/25/2012 01:03:43 AM PDT

An advocate for high-quality, early childhood education on Thursday urged the Solano business community to speak out against state cuts to programs that benefit the youngest Californians.

"Your voice is tremendously important. You know what this means for your future workforce," Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California, told attendees of the Solano Economic Development Corp. breakfast meeting.

Research focusing on what it takes to succeed in high school, career and college has consistently found that being an engaged learner in third-grade "is critical for future success," said Atkin.

To reach that third-grade target, "kids need to be born healthy, thriving at age 3, successful in preschool and ready for kindergarten at 5," she said, adding that too many California children don't meet those milestones.

"As early as 9 months, low-income children are already lagging in language acquisition," Atkin said. "Low-income children have heard 30 million fewer words by age 3 -- that's less than half the number heard by higher income kids. By kindergarten, they are a year behind their peers."

Those shortcomings can be seen in later test scores, where California students rank near the bottom in math and language arts, she said.

Such deficits can be overcome, she assured, citing access to high-quality preschool and two-year, transitional kindergarten classes for young 5-year-olds as among the programs shown to be effective. Waiting until high school to intervene is too late.

"The best return on investment is in the first five years," said Atkin, putting it in business terms. "The later you invest, the less the return."

As state officials attempt to balance California's budget, a half-billion dollars worth of cuts have been proposed to child development programs, she said.

"We are only 3 percent of the budget, but we are 20 percent of the cuts," Atkin said. "We need the business community to raise their voice. ... We will reap what we sow in the early years."

Follow Staff Writer Karen Nolan at Twitter.com/VacaNolan.