OPINION M26-214: I'm proof that early childhood pays dividends for communities
As a father, basketball coach and business leader, one of the points I stress is that you have to start strong to finish strong. That's why the current status quo for early childhood education in our community is unacceptable.
There is a scarcity of preschool options, and existing programs are often too expensive for the average family. Children from low-income families consistently fall behind, talented teachers are forced to leave the field due to low pay, and parents are forced to make impossible choices between setting their children up for lifelong success or putting food on the table.
We can, and we must do better.
By voting 'yes' on Measure 26-214, we will not only ensure tuition-free preschool for all children in Multnomah County, but we will ensure families have the support they need to earn a living and all preschool teachers are paid a fair wage. Preschool for All is an opportunity for our community to take a huge step toward our economic recovery and our long-term economic success.
Growing up in St. John's, one of my earliest memories is of circle time as a preschooler at what is now the Charles Jordan Community Center. My parents had lived a hardscrabble childhood, and we struggled financially, but they sacrificed so they could provide me the solid educational foundation they never had. Luckily, the public education system was also there for me. With a combination of educational opportunity and hard work, I became the first person in my family to graduate from college.
It was in those early years when I learned my most valuable skills. You see, quality preschool provides a foundation for our education as well as our social learning. In preschool, we learn how to negotiate when we want the same toy as a peer, how to problem-solve in a socially acceptable way by taking turns or trading, how to wait and attend a circle time and focus on a teacher. Preschool programs are a huge opportunity to teach children invaluable life skills when they are at an age ripe for learning.
We know that from birth to age 5, our brains develop more than at any other time in our life. But in Multnomah County, 60% of households with children under the age of 5 are unable to meet their basic needs without assistance. Children who miss out on preschool can end up getting negative attention in kindergarten when they do not have the same skills as their peers, which can set up a child for poor self-esteem and poor feelings about school. By age 5, for some, it can be too late for them to ever catch up with their peers.
Additionally, mounting evidence shows investments in quality preschool not only lead to better outcomes for the individual but also a significant return on investment for local economies, between $7-$16 for every dollar invested. That return is realized through cost savings that result from reduced special education needs and incarceration rates, as well as in better education and employment outcomes. And Preschool for All is funded with a marginal income tax only on the highest incomes; most families won't see a tax increase.
This Election Day, we have an opportunity to give every child in our community a chance to start strong, so they can finish strong. I am living proof of the incalculable value of early childhood education.
I'm proud to be the first person in my family to graduate from college, go on to gain my MBA, and lead a successful business. Today, I strive to give back what my community gave to me. Without the early childhood education opportunities I was provided, I may have never reached my full potential.
Investing in our children and families is not only the right thing to do; it's also the best investment we can make in all of our futures. Please join me and vote 'yes' on Measures 26-214 — "Preschool for All."
Keith Wilson is CEO of Titan Freight Systems in Portland.
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