By Anne Ryan
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama called for making “high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.” Economists agree that these investments are not just a good idea, they are critical to ending cycles of poverty.
Research shows that with exposure to high-quality and literacy-rich environments from birth to age 8, all children can reach their highest potential. It is heartening to see private resources through entities such as Say Yes Buffalo and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood being dedicated to early literacy and preschool programming. It also was heartening to see Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo allocate $25 million to increase the availability of prekindergarten.
At the same time, though, it was disheartening to learn that the proposed state budget slashes funding for child care subsidies by almost $100 million. Access to quality early care and education for all children and, in particular, low-income children through third grade, is critically important because such access closes the achievement gap. Research also informs us that if high- quality child care helps prepare children for academic success – the converse is also true – poor-quality care is detrimental to a child’s healthy development and academic future – costing much more in the end.
Unless subsidies are available, parents cannot afford child care and child care providers cannot afford to take the children who could most benefit from nurturing learning environments. Many of the providers who take low-income children are in such a desperate situation they have been forced to shut their doors, which puts parents in the untenable position of choosing whether to go to work or care for their child.
Perhaps most insidious, it results in a devastating loss of a caring adult relationship for children at a crucial point in their social and emotional development. It all results in a devastating cycle of unemployment, underachievement and poverty that has hindered our community for far too long.
This reduction in child care support complicates an already desperate situation. Over the last decade in Buffalo, fewer and fewer children who are eligible for subsidies are able to use them because of funding shortages. This means fewer children have the foundation of reading and learning skills needed to succeed in the classroom. On behalf of the hundreds of children and families in the City of Buffalo who are income eligible but lack access to child care subsidies, we urge our state legislators to restore this funding to 2010-11 levels.
To prepare our children for academic success, they need a foundation of early learning without which the problems plaguing our public education system cannot go away. The private sector is stepping up to the plate and we need our elected officials to do the same.
Anne Ryan is executive director of Read to Succeed Buffalo.