In the first State of the Union message of his second term as President, Barack Obama called on the nation to “do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.” By investing in high-quality early childhood education we “can help level the playing field for children from lower-income families on vocabulary, social and emotional development, while helping students to stay on track and stay engaged in the early elementary grades.”
There are some who, while absolutely embracing the President’s Pre-K Plan and its goals, are skeptical. They wonder how, at the end of the day, these ambitious goals will ultimately be accomplished in the midst of all that is going on around us today. To these skeptics, we want to offer a message of hope.
Frederick Douglass argued that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” The President has delivered a plan to the nation to build strong children and, we applaud him.
In 2006, Barack Obama (then Senator from Illinois) visited Hopkins House. During his visit, Obama spoke eloquently and forcefully about the enduring value of high-quality early childcare education like that at Hopkins House.
With the release of his Pre-K Plan, President Obama again demonstrates that he truly understands the needs of this nation’s children and is challenging its citizens to put the necessary resources where they will make a lasting and meaningful difference.
As parents, current and future, as caregivers and guardians, and as educators, taxpayers, and philanthropists, the President has now given us this extraordinary opportunity to make tomorrow the first day of a lifetime of achievement for our nation’s children. We mustn’t squander this gift.
Funding of the President’s very reasonable and sensible Pre-K Plan should not be regarded, by any measure, irrespective of one’s political or social viewpoint, as discretionary. Early childhood education is about education and more. It is also about developing the nation’s future workforce; equipping and readying her soldiers to defend this nation in the global, technological, and economic arena of tomorrow; and, about investing in a resource as natural to this planet as grass, birds, flowing water, and the very air we breathe.
Funding of this Pre-K Plan should not be abandoned underfoot while the elephants and donkeys wrestle over the federal budget. Our children deserve to be among the victors, if not the prize. Noted and very thoughtful economists, Democratic and Republican, have argued forcefully that federal government debt, when intentionally managed, not only can be reduced in the long-term but can yield substantial and sustained tangible dividends. When strategically invested to build the nation’s workforce, debt can be a very valuable asset.
The challenge, for those who care about the welfare and education of our nation’s children, is to determine an effective way to help the President move his (and our) early childhood education agenda forward. As a start, we need to develop a single, coherent message; one that captures the interest of a public obsessed – rightly so during these difficult times – with the economy. That early childhood education is good for the children, hardly anyone would disagree. But, this argument, which has become a broken record of sorts among early childhood education advocates, is not likely to sustain the interest of a public anxious about jobs, medical coverage, and housing. We need to accept this new reality and extend the reach of our message to the world outside the womb.
J. Glenn Hopkins
President and CEO