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Votes

High-quality Preschool Helps Children Succeed

Fairfax County must expand access to Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Preschool

As a retired general and the husband of an educator, I would like to highlight the importance of quality preschool as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors makes final decisions about the county budget.

I am alarmed that 75 percent of all young Americans ages 17-24 are not able to serve in the military, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight or have a criminal record.

In Virginia, 18 percent of young people do not graduate from high school on time. In addition, one in four of Virginia's high school graduates who try to join the military cannot serve because of low scores on the military's exam for math, literacy and problem-solving.

This poses challenges for a 21st century military and a 21st century workforce alike. We have the most technologically advanced military in the world, but we need educated men and women to operate it. And the military isn't alone: businesses in the private sector are seeking many of the same skill sets and running into the same challenging

deficits.

Fortunately, we know what works when it comes to helping more children do well in school and in life. High-quality preschool can help children succeed in school and avoid criminal involvement, opening the doors to college, careers and military service, if they choose to serve.

Early education also provides a safe, nurturing, educational

environment for children while their parents work. 66 percent of Virginia children under the age of 6 have all available parents in the workforce, according to KIDS COUNT data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The average working parent in America misses five to nine days of work per year because of childcare problems. Research confirms that if parents have quality early care and education available in their communities, not only will absenteeism and turnover go down, but productivity will also go up.

Long-term studies following the graduates of preschool programs up to age 40 have shown that early education can produce very strong and lasting results.

Here in Virginia, the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) was

established in 1995 to serve at-risk 4-year-olds who do not

participate in Head Start. This program is important because it is the only option for a lot of children, and because we know it delivers solid benefits.

VPI graduates are less likely to repeat kindergarten and more likely to meet or exceed minimum levels of competency in literacy.

VPI's return on investment shows that this is important not only for the children but for taxpayers as well. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute and The Commonwealth Institute determined that quality early education in Virginia saved taxpayers over $2 billion dollars over 17 years in special education savings, child welfare savings, decreased grade retention, reductions in juvenile and adult crime, increased earnings by parents, and increased tax contributions.

Unfortunately, quality early education is not equally available to all children who need it in the metropolitan Washington area.

A new report from the nonprofit Mission: Readiness, of which I am a member, shows that Fairfax County lags far behind other local jurisdictions and the District of Columbia in access to preschool.

Nearly half of the children from low-income families in Fairfax County who are eligible for the Virginia Preschool Initiative are not enrolled and hundreds are on a waiting list while the county sends funding back to Richmond rather than match state dollars.

County leaders in Fairfax must find a way to close this gap and offer high-quality early childhood education to all children who need it.

High-quality early education builds a solid foundation and helps more young people develop in mind, body, and character so they can succeed at whatever career path they choose, including military service.

Michael E. Ennis

Major General, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)

Oakton