Alexandria in Action: Invest now — or pay layter

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Alexandria in Action: Invest now — or pay layter
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By John Porter (File photo)

During a recent program with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and community leaders about early education and child care, an old television commercial for oil filters came to mind. In the ad, the mechanic proclaimed, “You can pay me now or pay me later,” the implication being the cost to protect your car now outweighs the consequences of repairs resulting from neglect.

It is much the same for many issues we face as a community and nation. For all of its outstanding qualities, Alexandria needs to do more to secure the brightest possible future for all of its children.

Consider:

  • Figures released this year by Alexandria City Public Schools indicate that approximately 60 percent of the children enrolled in the school system are eligible to receive free or reduced priced lunches because their families live below the federal poverty line.
  • Children from high-income families are exposed to 30 million more words by the age of 3 than children from families receiving public assistance, according to researchers Hart and Risley.
  • Thirty-four percent of Alexandria’s third graders are not proficient in reading. Studies show that if students are not at grade level in reading by third grade, their chances for graduation and success in the workplace diminish significantly.
  • Research studies provide a direct link between less education and the likelihood of unemployment, underemployment, and need for public assistance. The correlation with crime is also worrisome with 68 percent of adults incarcerated in state facilities having less than a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

How do we turn this around? By setting and staying focused on clear and unifying goals, working together to identify and advance solutions, and by holding ourselves accountable for the results.

For the past two years, ACT for Alexandria, our community foundation, has convened the Early Care and Education Work Group with representatives from ACPS, the Alexandria Health Department, city officials, the Bruhn-Morris Foundation, nonprofit providers, and the Children, Youth and Families Collaborative Commission. ACT, in partnership with the Work Group, is focused on developing a comprehensive early care and education strategy for our city.

In June 2014, city council and the Alexandria City School Board voted to support the Children and Youth Master Plan drafted by the Children, Youth and Families Collaborative Commission. This represented a major step in the right direction for securing a brighter future for our children. This plan was designed to provide a blueprint for the city as it seeks to allocate resources to strengthen families, our schools and the entire community.  While the CYMP focuses on children and youth from birth through age 21, the work group is particularly focused on one key strategy of the plan: Supporting the development, alignment of and access to early care and education systems that prepare young children to enter kindergarten.

Partnering with ACT are organizations such as ALIVE!, Hopkins House, The Campagna Center and The Child and Family Network Centers. These organizations are working collaboratively to address this important issue for the betterment of our children, families and community.  But your help is needed.

So, how can you help? It’s relatively simple. Learn as much as you can about early care and education in Alexandria. Share what you learn about early care and education. And give your time and resources to support early care and education through the following organizations:

We know investing in the formative years will pay dividends for generations to come. By prioritizing early care and education as a crucial need in our community, Alexandria is focusing its resources where they matter most. We would be well served to keep it that way.

The writer is the president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.

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