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Now is the time to invest in early childhood

June 20, 2019

From the Daily Memphian article

Over the past few years, our community has made historic progress toward the awareness, acceptance and expansion of early childhood programs. And local and national experts have come together to establish a comprehensive plan that sets goals, establishes funding needs and creates a framework for Shelby County’s first comprehensive early childhood system.

We are excited about the unanimous support between both the city and county governments to fully fund pre-kindergarten for every 4-year-old who qualifies. And we commend Mayor Jim Strickland and Mayor Lee Harris, as well as the school districts and superintendents for championing this cause.

Our local data from pre-K this year illustrates just how powerful high-quality programs can be. Eighty-five percent of the 7,800 children who attended finished the year “ready for kindergarten.” These children are now more likely to read on grade level in third grade, graduate high school, and avoid incarceration. Longitudinal data also shows that early childhood education results in stronger families and improves upward mobility in the next generation.

We know that investing in early childhood presents one of our community’s best defenses against intergenerational trauma and poverty. Now, we must commit to a solution that we know works in our community.

We announced the formation of the nonprofit First 8 Memphis last year, as a response to the question “Where do we go from here?” at the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. We understood that our plan required an investment of resources never seen for early childhood in this city — or state, for that matter.

But when debates arise about whether or not we can afford to invest in these programs, we need to confront the reality that we cannot afford to not invest.

First 8 Memphis is devoted to serving Shelby County children ages 0-8 and their families through a comprehensive early childhood system that includes home visitation, childcare, pre-K, and K-grade 3 programs. We believe that a high-quality early childhood system presents one the community’s best defenses against the negative effects of poverty and adverse childhood experiences. Our vision is for 90% of Shelby County children to be kindergarten ready and 90% of third-grade children to be reading on grade-level by 2025.

Early childhood education is not an answer to every challenge our community faces, but it is critical to creating the equity and opportunity that every child deserves. We must be the ones to speak up, as our young children cannot. We ask now on behalf of each child’s future that business, government and community leaders lock arms to ensure that the first 8 years of a child’s life are safe, stable and full of learning opportunities. We often say our children are our most valuable asset. Now is the time to act.

Co-signed by members of the First 8 Board of Directors: Dr. Marion Hare, Tanya Hart, Jim Boyd, Dr. Carol Johnson Dean, Mary McDaniel and Yvonne Madlock.