Letter: Tax money spent on early childhood programs is good investment

To the editor:

Micah Clark (“More Than Just Wishful Thinking,” Jan. 28, A4) would have Hoosiers believe that spending taxpayer money on young children is foolish. He provides a few statistics and selected points from various studies but does not provide any sources.

This may lead well-meaning Hoosiers to believe that investing in our young children is an unwise choice. In fact our elected officials, who are appropriately mindful of how to cautiously allocate our limited public dollars, understand the value of investing in early childhood.

Former Gov. Mike Pence established the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) to understand and explore this issue. (See elacindiana.org for information about this committee and a myriad of facts and resources to better understand more about Hoosier children and families.)

A careful review of the information available proves that there are many benefits to investing in very young children. Some long-term studies show that for every dollar spent in early childhood there is a savings of $7 in later spending on education, welfare, prisons, etc. That’s a significant return on investment.

Mr. Clark asserts that most 4-year-olds attend preschool now and that the majority of children are ready for kindergarten. This is excellent news. And yet Indiana spends about $24.3 million dollars annually on children who must repeat kindergarten because they are not ready. Children from families with very low or low incomes make up 52 percent of Indiana children. This impacts their ability to access early childhood programs.

Make no mistake, this is a complicated issue. Unfortunately Mr. Clark offers no solutions or ideas about how to further evaluate how to best support young children and families. The ELAC is bringing together parents, educators, policy makers and researchers to figure out the most cost effective, measurable ways to assure that all children are ready to learn.

We know from vast amounts of research that the early years are a critically important time for children’s brain development. From the moment they are born, children are learning how to be in relationships, manage their emotions, communicate their needs and solve problems. These are the very skills we need in the marketplace as employers.

So let’s commit to getting all of the facts, learning from the research and using the data to inform our decisions about how we invest our limited resources. Let’s join together in conversation and seek ways to support children and families. Ours kids deserve at least that much. And that is more than just wishful thinking.

Stephan Viehweg, MSW, LCSW, ACSW, IMH-E(IV)