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OPINION

EDITORIAL: We can do better by Pa. kids

York Dispatch

State and local lawmakers need to understand that as the often-partisan budget negotiations drag on, the clock is ticking for our youngest citizens, for whom early educational intervention would likely make a world of difference.

Pre-K co-teachers Rolanda SanMartin, center right, works with students Josiah Angeles, left, Jailyn Villofone, center, left, and Christian Allen, right, as they build during afternoon work time at Hannah Penn K-8 School in York, Pa. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

Gov. Tom Wolf has asked for $240 million in early childhood education to accommodate 14,000 children statewide. He negotiated that down to $120 million but has said he will continue to urge legislators to approve the full amount.

But advocates say $400 million is needed in state investment to increase access for children at greatest risk of academic failure.

We must all agree that early childhood education is an investment in children and not a drain on taxpayers. We know that children who are educated early have more chance of success. And children who grow up to be successful members of society are rarely the recipient of expensive social safety net services or criminal justice funding.

What is it about investing in children that is so difficult?

We can’t fathom the reasons to wait until children fall through the cracks and end up needing social and criminal justice support. The thinking on this is so upside down as to be a real stain on the current generation of lawmakers.

If you’re not investing in the future generations, you’re doing your constituents a grave disservice. And be assured that history will surely judge you harshly for your failure to do all you can to see the children of today grow into well-educated, well-adjusted contributing members of society.

According to an impact economic study performed by Ready Nation/America's Edge, every dollar invested in early education will generate $1.79 in immediate return and up to $17 in the long term "in savings and benefits through the economic ripple effect of reducing costs to our schools and society, including significant criminal justice savings ..."

If Pennsylvania were to fund high-quality pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, the investment would initially generate about $800 million in additional goods and services, and create almost 28,000 new jobs, according to the same study.

To those who represent the children of Pennsylvania in the state Legislature: Invest now — please.

Every year that’s wasted, a child loses precious time that could be spent fostering a lifetime love of learning. When a child is a successful learner, he or she builds self-esteem that creates a positive forward momentum in their life.