Giving children the best possible start in life benefits not only the children and their families but our schools and, ultimately, our community.
It goes without saying that when children perform well in school, their contributions to society are greater. They are more likely to graduate, to hold jobs and to give back.
And success in school for many youngsters starts with Smart Start-Centre County, a program established to, among other things, help children and parents with the transition to school in those five critical years before kindergarten.
Unfortunately, the 2012-13 state budget eliminated a $50,000 grant to Smart Start, crippling the early childhood education program by cutting 60 percent of its operating budget.
We just cant overcome it, Eileen Wise said.
On Friday, Smart Starts board of directors announced its decision to eliminate Wises position as executive director of Smart Start-Centre County, a cost-saving measure necessitated by the loss of state funding.
Now, faced with devastating cuts, the organizations future and the future of local families that might have benefited from its programs is uncertain. So what now?
Park Forest Elementary School Principal Donnan Stoicovy is hopeful that at least one Smart Start endeavor will continue.
In 2010, Smart Start got a grant from the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning and with that developed and printed booklets for rising kindergartners in Centre County that welcomed them to school. But when funding ran out, the Park Forest PTO stepped up to cover the costs and probably will again, Stoicovy said.
A simple booklet with photographs of teachers and classrooms might not seem like much but, as Stoicovy pointed out, for children transitioning to kindergarten there are a lot of unknowns. And those booklets helped ease anxieties and boost confidence for many young children.
Wise, during a recent presentation to area school principals, said such initiatives help the children transition to school and improve their chances to graduate and find jobs down the line.
What will future budget cuts bring? What happens when PTOs must choose out of necessity which programs to cut?
Downsizing and elimination are very real possibilities and, with the future of nonprofits like Smart Start in jeopardy, public education as a whole is threatened.
Politicians talk a good game about the importance of education and putting children first. But cuts to early childhood education programs only serve to weaken education and send a message to families of young children that they dont come first.
We need to invest in young children to minimize the eventual costs of not doing so in the form of welfare, unemployment, prisons.
Its very sad, and I think children and families are going to lose out, Wise said. But, ultimately, its our community that loses out when children do not come first.
Every child deserves an opportunity to reach his or her educational potential, and that begins with the potential to succeed in kindergarten.
For the sake of Centre County schoolchildren and the quality of public education in Pennsylvania, we hope next years budget truly puts children first.