Nationwide, less than one-third of 4-year-olds participate in preschool programs (US Department of Education, 2014). Compare this figure to global statistics, and the United States ranks 25th in the world in early learning enrollment (US Department of Education, 2014). Even more staggering is the reality that of this fraction of American students receiving a preschool education, the majority come from an economically advantaged background. According to a 2014 report from Child Care Aware of America, “the average annual cost of enrolling an infant in a center-based daycare program is more than a year’s worth of tuition and fees at a public college in that state” (Time Magazine, 2014). In the Northeast for example, preschool can run up to $22,513 a year. While costs are variable depending on location, and program quality, these exorbitant tuition fees make programs inaccessible to many young learners and their families.
Yet, research shows that early education is critical to a students’ success. High quality early education provides the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Early education has been linked with lifelong positive cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes. Furthermore, the Perry Preschool Project conducted a longitudinal study of at-risk students. They compared a group of students receiving a high quality preschool education with a control group that did not. Forty years later, their research revealed that those students receiving a preschool education had higher earnings, longer employment, were less likely to commit a crime, and were more likely to receive a high school diploma (The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, 2005). President Obama validated these and other findings, pledging to commit to early childhood education during his tenure, “If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we’ll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own. By the end of this decade, let’s enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool. That is an achievable goal that we know will make our workforce stronger.” Earlier this month, President Obama made fiscal progress on this goal announcing a $1 billion investment in preschool education.
Unfortunately, North Carolina is not one of the 18 beneficiary states of this funding. Nonetheless, high quality preschool programs are active across our state. I have recently taken on more responsibility with ASC’s affiliate North Carolina Wolf Trap program, a regional branch of the nationally acclaimed Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts Program. Through a partnership with CharlotteMecklenburgSchools and the Wolf Trap Institute, North Carolina Wolf Trap brings the performing arts into the Bright Beginnings Pre-K program for seven-week residencies with a cadre of local teaching artists. By integrating common core standards and CMS’ literacy curriculum with performing arts, Wolf Trap provides both students and classroom teachers with an engaging and enriching experience. Active in Charlotte since 2006, this program illustrates the power and necessity of the arts in early education.
While North Carolina did not receive funding in this recent federal allocation, it is imperative that we continue investing in early childhood education programs, such as North Carolina Wolf Trap. Every child has exceptional potential – an investment in their education is an investment in our future.