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Tampa Tribune: Early learning key to future workforce

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Early learning key to future workforce


At the core of a strong economy is support for working families, not only to provide families the ability to achieve self-sufficiency but to grow a strong future workforce through high-quality early learning environments.

Recent reports of Florida’s encouraging economic progress confirm the need for policies that empower working families and provide an open canvas of opportunity for their children.

Yet several bills proposed during this legislative session in Tallahassee put self-sufficiency for low-income working families at risk by denying them access to quality early learning programs for their children. These measures also threaten to turn back the clock on the combined efforts of our state’s early learning and K-20 education systems to ensure young minds are provided the building blocks they need for future academic success.

The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County promotes policies that build effective primary prevention and early intervention systems of supports for Tampa Bay children and families. Combined with seven other children’s services councils statewide in Duval, Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties, we serve more than half our state’s low-income children and families through partnerships with the state’s early learning leaders and stakeholders.

It is for these reasons that we — and our counterparts across the state — oppose legislation that risks altering the nature of our early learning system by eliminating the foundational, early learning education criteria that are essential to ensuring program accountability and meeting federal intent. This also minimizes the future expenses of health care, juvenile detention and remedial education. Rather than divesting ourselves of our early learning system and stripping it down to a glorified babysitting service, legislators should support quality early learning programs that pay dividends in the form of children who are healthy, ready to learn and prepared to succeed.

State leaders must continue to fund critical screenings for children that identify vision or hearing deficiencies and developmental delays that may compromise a child’s ability to learn. Catching these problems now will avoid the cost of intervention services, school failure and senseless suffering later.

In addition to screenings, we need to defend measures that protect research-driven child assessment tools that quantify the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Child assessment scores help us identify where a child enters a program and where they leave through a pre/post-test model.

Equally important are making certain that educators utilize research-based curricula proven to cultivate learning. These curricula are powerful tools teachers can use to ensure all children learn, grow and are prepare to enter kindergarten.

Building a strong and competitive workforce starts in today’s early earning programs. Lawmakers must protect Florida’s future by supporting working families now and ensuring our youngest citizens are equipped with the tools they’ll need to be the productive employees we’ll need tomorrow.

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