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Programs For Young AR Children Called Vital, But Funding Threatened

A new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation makes the case for investing in a child’s early years to increase chances for a successful life. IMAGE: "Scrambled Students" by Kobie Long, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education
A new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation makes the case for investing in a child’s early years to increase chances for a successful life. IMAGE: "Scrambled Students" by Kobie Long, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education
November 4, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A new study says investing in children's early years can boost their chances in life, but warns that Arkansas is starting to skimp. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report, nearly two out of three American children are having a tough time learning the skills they need by third grade. And, the study says, it's twice as hard for low-income and minority kids.

According to Jerri Derlikowski, education policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the state has good programs in early education and family coaching, which can help. But, she said, it hasn't maintained funding for those programs.

"We've failed to continue to invest in that, and this Annie E. Casey report is just one more example that the earlier you can invest, the more negative outcomes you can avoid," she said.

The Casey report looked at language and cognitive skills at eight years old, among other things.

Derlikowski said every dollar spent on those early years brings seven dollars in returns, and that if the children don't develop those basic skills by age eight, it hurts them in the long run.

"Students that aren't are more likely to be dropouts, and up to age eight is where we really need to focus our investment in our children, because that's where we get the most impact."

She said Arkansas has a good early education program that covers 80 percent of four-year-olds and half of three-year-olds. But, she said, the funding has eroded until the program could start to be undermined.

"Programs are struggling: They can't pay their teachers adequately and we're at the point where quality and even the number of slots that we have for children are going to be limited."

The Casey Foundation study also says support for low-income families - tax credits, help getting better jobs, access to health care - can help their children's development.

The report is at AECF.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR