Back to school, for the little ones, too!

In MassLive 8/27/15

As summer winds down and families gear up for back-to-school season, it's a good time to remember the vital importance of early education.

Study after study shows that the most significant brain development occurs before age 5. Every dollar invested in high-quality early education yields a return as high as $16, in large part due to reduced remedial and special education and improved graduation rates.

As the parent of a toddler, I've cherished watching my child's growth and learning firsthand. Every day my wife and I marvel at the new words and discoveries our daughter encounters.

While there is no substitute for active and engaged parenting, we know that early education, whether preschool, kindergarten or other programs, makes a critical difference in children's lives.

We also know that expanding access to preschool and kindergarten not only helps our children, but lifts our entire community by unlocking the full potential of our next generation.

That's why I've championed early education programming and access in the Senate. For example, I joined my Senate colleagues to restore $17 million in funds to help our cities and towns transition to full-day kindergarten. Alarmingly, while Massachusetts has a formula for funding elementary and high school, there is no equivalent formula for kindergarten and preschool. I'm working on measures to fix this and move toward universal, full-day preschool and kindergarten.

To this end, I support an initiative that calls for a fully funded early education program for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Massachusetts, along with universal full-day kindergarten. In the Senate, I also championed a recent funding increase for the Boys & Girls Clubs, which provide essential early learning programs across the Commonwealth. I also joined the rest of my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan veto override to restore funding to Preschool Expansion Grants.

We also have great examples of innovative work happening locally.

For example, I co-sponsored an increase in state funding to Square One, based in Springfield and one of the most respected early education providers in Massachusetts, as well as to Talk/Read/Succeed!, a local nonprofit that promotes early literacy.

In addition, I've worked closely with Link to Libraries, an organization based in Hampden that has donated over 230,000 books to local elementary schools and leads a program that promotes reading at home. The Davis Foundation, also based in Springfield, provides grants across Hampden County and has done innovative work on early education.

During a recent visit to Brunton Elementary School in Springfield, I sat with a group of kindergarteners as they learned about colors and shapes with a set of wooden blocks. They might not appreciate it just yet, but the education they're receiving will open a world of possibilities for them and their families in the years ahead.

Our mission as adults is to ensure that those young people, and all young people, have the necessary tools to make the most of their potential.

We'll all be better off as a result.

Op-edEric Lesser