I just finished reading Joe O'Sullivan's excellent piece on pre-K education in this morning's Rapid City Journal. The story is about pre-school programs in Rapid City and the sparsity of them throughout South Dakota. I was reminded of a time many years ago when I took my firstborn--she was three--to a local school district program called "Daddy And Me" every Saturday morning for a semester. Very engaging stuff, quite helpful in developing cognitive, thinking and social skills. Little Jennifer got a lot out of it too. (Okay, spare the rimshot--I couldn't resist.) All in all, it was an unqualified success and sold me on the notion that kids that age can use all the organizational inputs they get in a structured, educationally-proven setting. O'Sullivan makes the same point in his piece, which is loaded with ample documentation supporting the benefits of Early Childhood Education.
Unfortunately for South Dakota, the piece also calls attention to the fact that we are one of just 10 states that don't have a state- or federally-funded pre-K program. In that part of the discussion, O'Sullivan notes that several of the 10 program-less states are either developing or studying a pre-K plan, which will likely reduce SD to one of just a handful of states without one. I think this is a bad deal for South Dakota, and I'm actually speaking as more than a parent and grandparent now--I'm looking at it through my businessman's eyes. What caught those eyes in the RCJ piece is a notation that Indiana is looking at this via a study group sponsored by the state's Chamber of Commerce.
Huh? What's the C of C doing, sticking its profit-seeking nose into something as pedagogically arcane as pre-school education? As it turns out, Indiana's biz community is just going along with a national trend of business honchos and organizations--including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--that is lobbying quite hard for Early Childhood Programs. Here's what Proctor and Gamble's former CEO John Pepper just had to say about it: "The return on investments make early childhood education what we call in business a No Brainer. And the role of business is obvious. We have to reach the legislators." I could load this post up with similar testimonials, many from equally high-profile business types, all of whom are seeking the same thing--a community of workers and consumers whose first-class education and training will benefit the economy to the max.
I suppose we can call that goal an expression of civic virtue that cuts across political and economic lines--a nice high-mindedness that should make all of us feel better about ourselves while pursuing it. But I'll notch it down to a level that's quite a bit more prosaic, even crass, as I appeal to my fellow business types on this basis: a good ECE program will result more dough for all of us. Pepper, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, numerous other business leaders--none of them see this exclusively through the prism of altruism. As successful entrepeneurs they know that a sound economy makes for good profits. That's why the business community is unified in support of pre-K programs.
South Dakota may be pinched for the money it takes to develop a program like this just now, but spreading its implementation out over a decade, as West Virginia is doing, gets the ball rolling in the right direction. I hope somebody at the Rapid City and other Chambers of Commerce takes note and puts some study and thought into getting behind pre-K programs all over the state.