“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That’s Proverbs 22:6. No matter your particular faith or belief system, those are words we all know to ring true. Children are our most precious resource. And in their early years, what they learn from us, what they see from us, and the opportunities they receive from us go on to shape them for a lifetime.
The biblical lesson is backed up by science. Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops between birth and the age of 5. Those first few years are precious and, as any parent knows, they go by all too fast. So the question for all of us is a simple one: What are we doing to “train up” our children in the way they should go? What are we doing to prepare them to live full and successful lives?
At this moment, being truthful, I would have to answer that here in Missouri we aren’t doing nearly enough. Our children are saddled with Missouri’s disastrous, longstanding failure at funding Pre-K. Right now, only 3% of our state’s four-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded Pre-K. In Illinois, as a percentage, nine times as many four-year-olds are enrolled. In Iowa it’s 60%. In Oklahoma it’s 74%. We trail every state we border. We rank near the bottom in the nation. A child born in Missouri misses out, simply because of where he or she is born, on an opportunity that millions of other families and children take for granted. The Missouri Legislature spends just $37 million each year on early childhood education – and $600 million on incarceration. This is not just a statistic; it is an injustice.
Our kids are missing out on a crucial period for learning and brain growth,a period that has been found to be pivotal in their ultimate success. The studies are many and their results are clear: children who have access to a quality Pre-K education do better in life. The landmark HighScope Perry Preschool Study followed participants in a Pre-K program for under-served children in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for forty years, comparing their outcomes to those of children who did not attend the program. The study found “… adults at age 40 who had the preschool program had higher earnings, were more likely to hold a job, and were more likely to have graduated from high school than adults who did not have preschool.” In short: Pre-K works.
For all of these reasons the Ferguson Commission, which I co-chaired, called for universal Pre-K in our state. The groundbreaking study “For the Sake of All” made the same recommendation. Yet nothing substantive has been done. Politicians in Jefferson City keep funding their pet projects, and ignoring our children and families. They know we need to expand Pre-K, but they offer no solutions or ideas of their own. That’s why I, and so many others, are supporting Amendment 3 this year. Amendment 3, the Early Childhood Health and Education Amendment, is a solution that will bring real Pre-K to Missouri’s kids. Thousands of our young people will finally be able to access high quality Pre-K in their own neighborhoods. Even better, the funding for these programs will be locked up tight by law, and the politicians can’t touch it. It has to go to children and families.
Amendment 3 is long overdue. Just as with so many things in life, it is our actions and not our words that tell the truth. Our state’s inaction on this issue has, for far too long, told a difficult and painful truth. We haven’t put our kids first. There’s no excuse for letting Missouri fall so far behind the rest of the country. There’s no excuse for telling a 4-year-old girl here in St. Louis that she can’t go to Pre-K, while her cousins in Chicago and Des Moines get that opportunity and that head start on life.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That’s our calling as parents, educators, leaders, and citizens. We must train up our children, so that they will do well and will open doors that, at present, seem closed. This starts with finally giving our kids the access to Pre-K they have long deserved and have long been denied. It starts with voting yes on Amendment 3 this November.