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Early childhood should be a state priority

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By Mark Anderson, Merrily Haas, Mary Louise McClintock and Julie Young, Thursday June 4, 2009

If it was announced that Portland State University would lose an entire class of incoming students, or that the University of Oregon or Oregon State would lose a class and a half of students, or that Reed College, Lewis & Clark College and the University of Portland were all simultaneously shutting their doors, Oregonians would be taking to the streets to protest those cuts. But if pending budget cuts are approved, even more young children than that could lose their access to early care and education.

According to Department of Human Services' budget estimates, 10,000 children will lose access to state subsidies for early care and education if the budget cuts to the Employment Related Day Care program are approved.

These reductions to ERDC, a program that helps low-income parents with the cost of child care, have been proposed by the governor and members of the legislature even though research by Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman and others proves that there is a higher return on investment in early care and education than investments at any other age level. The child care subsidy program has been proposed for reduction even though research by Harvard's Center on the Developing Child and others tells us that 70% of brain development occurs before age three, and 90% before age six.

Failing to invest today in early care and education will result in higher dropout rates, higher teen pregnancy, higher rates of incarceration, and numerous other expensive problems. Today's small problems will become tomorrow's much larger ones. And society (that means all of us) will end up paying most of the bills.

Compounding the impact on these young children who are unable to protest on their own, their parents may have to choose between leaving their children alone or in unsafe environments, and quitting their jobs. This will result in reduced incomes, lower state tax receipts, and higher demand and outlays for other social service programs.

These are not large or expensive programs. All of these cuts can be restored for $50 million. According to The Oregonian (May 24), that is less than the income generated by delaying the implementation of Measure 57 or by reducing the compensation provided to video lottery retailers from 24% to 20%.

As Oregonians, we need to get our priorities straight. The proposed cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish, and the long-term consequences of making the cuts would be tragic for our state.

Mark Anderson is executive director of the Oregon Child Care Resource & Referral Network. Merrily Haas is executive director of the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children. Mary Louise McClintock is early childhood program director for the Oregon Community Foundation. Julie Young is a partner with Social Venture Partners/Portland.

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