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Education funding must match growth of children’s brains

Government funding for education ignores the years when children’s brains are growing the fastest, according to new research by The Urban Child Institute.  Special to the Tri-State Defender

(The New Tri-State Defender recently partnered with The Urban Child Institute to make sure every child has the best chance for optimal brain development during the critical first three years of each child’s life. This is one in a series of stories and columns in our campaign.)

Government funding for education ignores the years when children’s brains are growing the fastest, according to new research by The Urban Child Institute.

The Urban Child Institute consultant and author of the report, Steve Ross, said: “By the time a toddler has his third birthday, his brain has grown to 80 percent of its adult size. And yet, during this time of the greatest brain growth, only 2.5 percent of the $1.8 billion spent on educating our children is spent during these first three years.”

In other words, when we can have the greatest impact on children and give them a fair start in life, we do just the opposite, said Ross. “We don’t make the smartest investment, which is to make sure that the youngest children are ready for school,” he said. “For many of these children, they start off behind in school and they never catch up.”

The reality that 40 percent of Memphis children are living in poverty makes this a priority for all of us, according to The Urban Child Institute.

“We need to let our elected officials know that we can’t do the same thing and expect different results,” said Katie Midgley of The Urban Child Institute. “We have to align our educational investments when it matters most – the first three years of children’s lives.”

The Urban Child Institute report said that there must be higher awareness of the impact of poverty on children’s educational outcomes. “(This) is not widely acknowledged throughout the community,” the report said. “For this and any other reasons, parental demand for the widespread adoption of readily available early childhood educational institutions has lagged other areas of the country, including our neighbor to the west, Arkansas.”

Stand for Children’s Memphis Director Kenya Bradshaw, whose organization works at the grassroots for all children to get excellent public education, said early childhood is a “critical time” for investment in children’s education.

“This is a critical time because children are sponges for knowledge at that time and the more that we put into them, the further they can reach in life,” she said. “Early education is the same as building a house. We need to provide a strong foundation on which we build our children to be lifelong learners.”

This emphasis on the youngest children in Memphis is especially important, because “we can no longer expect greatness from our children when we do not provide them with the tools and resources they need to be great,” she said. “I can expect you to build a house and I don’t provide you wood, a hammer, and some cement. Early education is that cement.”

So what should parents do to bring greater investment in early childhood education?

According to The Urban Child Institute, parents should:

• Call on Shelby County Government, whose funding for early childhood education is non-existent, to include Early Learning as part of its public education funding.
• Advocate for expanded Early Headstart and other pre-K programs, because for every child in the program, 31 who are qualified are not because the program is underfunded.
• Champion better parenting and home visitation programs for at-risk families.

• Help spread the word that the first three years of a child’s life are the time for the greatest brain development and when our investments can make the most difference.

• Insist on effective parenting programs to prepare people to nurture their children’s optimal brain development.

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