By Sen. Dave Schmidt
When proponents of a new state agency for early learning approached me for my support, I was extremely skeptical.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for our kids learning early and learning often. But I wondered if a new state agency could really be the answer. As a general rule, I would rather see the size of government shrink, not grow.
However, it soon became apparent that improved early learning for our children is one of the most important and necessary investments we can make. The payoff down the road in terms of an educated workforce and an involved and productive citizenry is too obvious and too attractive to ignore.
Science tells us that more than 90 percent of our brain development takes place during the first five years of life. Understanding basic counting skills, the alphabet, colors, and being able to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time are essential to starting a child’s learning years on the right foot.
On the other hand, countless studies show that the 5-year-old who enters kindergarten two or three grade levels behind his or her peers becomes the juvenile delinquent, the high school dropout or the teenager who’s pregnant.
The vision for the new Early Learning agency is to take over the duties currently being handled by three separate agencies – the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, and Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction – in order to streamline and prioritize existing services. This would include taking over existing programs and the staff that work with the programs.
With the Gates Foundation, the Talaris Research Institute (founded by cell phone entrepreneur Bruce McCaw), Boeing and other large corporations ready to put up more than $100 million into this effort, the program could be a true public/private partnership for early learning.
While I know there will be some who are hesitant – like I was – to add to the list of existing state agencies, I believe this is one case that proves itself beyond all others. Increasing our children’s early learning opportunities is not an option; it is a must if we are to continue to compete in this global economy.
Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Mill Creek, represents the 44th Legislative District and serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Early Learning, K-12 and Higher Education Committee.