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Editorial: Early childhood education crucial for state's future

Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 6:34 PM

A collaborative effort by LSU and Tulane stresses the importance of early childhood education and points out strengths and weaknesses in the system.

The 2012 Early Childhood Risk and Reach in Louisiana report seeks to provide data that can help politicians and educators make better decisions regarding funding and policies for early childhood education.

‘‘From economics is the strong evidence of significant cost-savings to both the individual and society resulting from investments in high quality programs for children from birth to (age) 5,’’ the report states. ‘‘The result is less remedial education, less crime and fewer welfare payments.’’

Geoff Nagle, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Tulane’s School of Medicine, said from birth until age 5 is the critical time to build fundamentals that will serve a person for the rest of his or her life.

Nagle said that when young children suffer stress because of poverty, mental health, substance abuse and/or violence in the home, their bodies produce cortisol, a hormone that suppresses the immune system, causes anxious behavior and negatively affects memory, thinking and focus.

He said damage to a child’s attention leads not only to issues in their education, but problems in their adult life.

The report said that ‘‘early intervention and prevention efforts can have significant payoffs for individual children, their families and their community.’’

Kirby Goidel, a professor of political science and mass communication and director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, said polls indicate overwhelming support for early childhood education. But he laments that that support hasn’t translated into public policy.

Nagel pointed out that in 2010 the state suffered a $170 million loss in the tax credits it provides the movie industry.

‘‘What could that do if that $170 million was invested in early education?’’ he said.

Fortunately, Louisiana’s Department of Education is developing the Early Childhood Care and Education Network, which is designed to expand access to high-quality, publicly funded early childhood programs to ensure more children are kindergarten ready when the enter school.

The initiative calls for a transparent outcome-based rating system, resources to improve the quality of care and instruction at preschools, funding based on a school’s performance and easy access to information about preschools so that parents can make informed decisions about where they enroll their children. The program is supposed to start in the upcoming school year and be implemented statewide for the 2015-16 school year.

With more than one-third of preschool children in Louisiana living in poverty, there are numerous hurdles to overcome. But it’s imperative that the state do all within its power to level the playing field and ensure that early childhood education programs properly prepare students for entering kindergarten.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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