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My Turn
Even in tough times, why our legislators need to be thinking for the long term

Policymakers in Olympia are looking hard at every available dollar these days. And while that scrutiny is welcome, community members and business leaders need to make sure our policymakers are taking a long-term view of each decision they make.

Making cuts to early learning and development programs today will impact both individual children and our collective community in the years to come. Closing programs that prepare young children to enter kindergarten and our school systems will profoundly hurt us all.

That is why I hosted a breakfast recently asking Dr. Bette Hyde to discuss this exact issue. Bette currently is the director of our state’s Department of Early Learning and the former superintendent of the Bremerton School District.

At the gathering, we asked a group of local business leaders to weigh in on a proposal to expand access to preschool for our state’s most at-risk children — those children who may benefit the most from preschool programs.

Some 85 percent of the core structure of the brain develops in the first five years of life. According to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit organization that provides research and analysis to improve policy and decision-making, only four percent of national public investments in children happen before age five.

The costs to provide at-risk children with early education before age five are far less than those to provide intervention services for problems that may arise later in life.

At-risk children generally are from low-income families struggling to afford medical and dental care.

For example, a Washington State Department of Health survey in 2005 showed that 45 percent of low-income preschoolers in our state had dental decay.* Children with dental problems often miss school or have difficulty concentrating, which leads to fewer learning opportunities.

At-risk children whose families have access to preschool programs are more likely to be aware of and take advantage of associated preventive healthcare services.

Children who are healthy are more focused, willing, and ready to learn.

It’s imperative that children begin their school experience prepared to succeed. Support for preschool programs today will produce high school graduates tomorrow who have the necessary skills to succeed in areas of advanced education and a variety of workplace professions.

Investing in essential programs and resources for our community’s preschool children is an investment in our nation’s future. When we help children to establish a solid, healthy foundation for growth and learning, we’re paving the way for the next generation of confident workers and vibrant leaders.

Amid challenging budget decisions, policymakers in Olympia have a unique opportunity to take this long-term view and invest in the best payoff — the health and education of our very young children.

Scott W. Bosch is the President and CEO of Harrison Medical Center

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