Early Childhood Education: Funding Literacy
Michigan’s third graders are failing, according to floundering test scores across the state. A Detroit News report cited 2019 test results from the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) showing 54.9% of third graders scored less than proficient on the English Language Arts test. An analysis of testing data from across the nation revealed that students in Michigan are performing within the bottom 10% of states, and Michigan itself ranks 43rd in school funding equity (Chambers). To address this inequity and begin turning the tide in favor of Michigan’s young readers, we must go to the root of the problem and direct funding to early childhood education programs to ensure children have equal access to literacy. For the purposes of this essay, I will primarily be focusing on literacy and the benefits that funding early childhood education have on promoting and developing literacy in young children.
Funding early childhood education is critical to ensuring young children achieve more later in life. Research suggests that a child’s relationship with literacy begins at birth, not the first time a child walks through a school’s front doors. Educational nonprofit, Zero to Three, explains, “Early language and literacy (reading and writing) development begins in the first three years of life and is closely linked to a child’s earliest experiences with books and stories (Zero to Three).” Research also shows that students from low-income backgrounds encounter as many as 30 million fewer words by age three than their counterparts from higher-income families (Colker). This difference, known as the 30 Million Word Gap, is directly related to the time that parents spend talking, singing, and reading to their children (Talking is Teaching)—time that parents who work multiple minimum wage jobs do not have.
Given the data above, it’s clear that not everyone has equal access to the tools that allow children to have these experiences, just as equal access to early childhood education is not a given, especially for families in low-income households.The Center for American Progress notes that, “Across the United States, it is not unusual for childcare tuition to be the first- or second-largest household expense for families […] (Cohn).” In other words, early childhood programs can be expensive, and the parents who need the service the most—those without literacy materials at home—are the same parents that cannot afford the service. Government funding of early childhood education would level the playing field between affluent students with a large vocabulary, and lower-income students with a smaller vocabulary by providing them with similar instruction time and materials.
In addition to being necessary to providing equal access to literacy despite socioeconomic status, government funding of early childhood education would mean more opportunities and higher achievement levels of students later in life. Take the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), an example of a partially state-funded early childhood program that operates throughout Michigan. The program specifically serves children who are at risk of falling behind, and decades of research have suggested that students who participate in programs such as GSRP achieve at higher academic levels, are more likely to pursue further education upon graduating, and are more successful as adults (Coalition for the GSRP). A 2019 study found that GSRP students scored higher on the ELA and math portions of the M-STEP than classmates who hadn’t enrolled in the program. Additionally, research suggests that two years of high-quality preschool could increase future earnings of enrolled children by up to $100,000 (French). In other words, high income levels mean the government will benefit from increased tax revenue and local businesses will flourish with patrons that have a greater disposable income.
However, opponents argue that government funded early childhood education programs will spread the already strained coffers of each state too thin. Alia Wong writes in The Atlantic that “funding shortfall, moreover, undermines the quality and effectiveness of existing programs. By expanding pre-k for all, the money could be spread even thinner (Wong.)” Although it is fair to be concerned about the quality of education children would receive in these programs, the cost of not funding these programs is still higher. According to a 2013 federal report on the well-being of children and families, “[…] those who had some preschool experience the year before kindergarten […] did better on math and reading assessments than the 15 percent who were cared for by a relative and the 21 percent who were at home with parents (Chandler.)” In other words, educational disparities are being revealed as early as the ages of five and six—between children who were able to attend preschool, and those who were unable. Funding these programs would allow all students to enter kindergarten on a more equal footing.
It’s no question that early childhood education programs should receive funding from the government. First, tax revenue generated funding would allow more school districts to provide early childhood programs, making it more accessible and affordable for low-income families. Additionally, the labor force directly benefits from affordable childcare access because parents are able to stay in the workforce (French). Secondly, low-income,and at-risk students will see long-term benefits from participating in pre-k programs. Their academic achievement levels are boosted, they’re more likely to attend college, and they will reap greater financial rewards. That also means literacy and mathematics scores will be boosted as children enter their formal schooling careers with a basic understanding of these principles. Finally, long-term benefits of funding early childhood education include additional tax revenue that can go into improving these programs, raising teacher salaries, and additional government projects. In the end, investment in children is an investment in the future. If we expect that future to be bright, children must have early childhood education programs that give them the skills they’ll need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
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Chambers, Jennifer. “More than half of Michigan third graders fail in reading.” The Detroit
News, 29 August 2019, https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/education/2019/08/29
/michigan-third-graders-fail-reading/2086915001/. Accessed 23 April 2021.
Chandler, Michael Alison. “Children who attend preschool do better in kindergarten than those
who don’t, study says.” The Washington Post, 15 July 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/children-who-attend-preschool-do-better-in-kindergarten-than-those-who-dont-study-says/2013/07/15/f556d97c-ed63-11e2-bed3-b9b6fe264871_story.html. Accessed 26 April 2021.
Coalition for the Great Start Readiness Program. “School leaders to Whitmer: invest in early
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Cohn, Paul. “What Drives Early Childhood Program Costs?” Early Learning Nation, 06
November 2018, http://earlylearningnation.com/2018/11/early-childhood-programs-cost/. Accessed 26 April 2021.
Colker, Laura J. “The Word Gap: The Early Years Make the Difference.” National Association
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French, Ron. “Michigan’s game-changing preschool program ‘untenable’ without more
funding.” Bridge Magazine, 10 March 2021, https://www.bridgemi.com/talent-education/michigans-game-changing-preschool-program-untenable-without-more-funding. Accessed 26 April 2021.
Talking is Teaching. “Early Literacy Resources.” Talking is Teaching,
https://talkingisteaching.org/resources/literacy. Accessed 30 April 2021.
Wong, Alia. “The Case Against Universal Preschool.” The Atlantic, 18 November 2014,
https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/11/the-case-against-universal-preschool/382853/. Accessed 26 April 2021.
Zero to Three. “Early Literacy.” Brain Wonders, 25 February 2003, https://www.zerotothree.org
This%20handout%20provides%20information%20on,experiences%20with%20books%20and%20stories. Accessed 26 April 2021.