By Sen. David Watters
All children are born ready to learn, yet far too many of New Hampshire’s children do not have access to the early learning opportunities needed to prepare them for school and life. Without access to high-quality early learning programs, children fall behind. Many never catch up.
New Hampshire is also one of the only states east of the Mississippi River without state-funded preschool. This is unacceptable.
The research is clear. If we invest today in setting a strong intellectual, cognitive and emotional foundation for children before they reach age 5, we can significantly raise the odds they will stay in and perform well in school, avoid teenage pregnancy, keep away from drug-related and violent crimes and, more generally, contribute to making our communities more livable and prosperous.
That’s why we need to provide a preschool program to our state’s littlest learners.
I understand that this isn’t cheap and funding is a major hurdle in the debate. That’s why we need creative solutions to fund vital programs such as this one.
Financing mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships, could provide the necessary resources to make early childhood education a reality for far more kids here in the Granite State.
A bill I recently introduced in the state Senate, SB 503, would allow private and philanthropic investors to enter into contracts with state governments to fund programs proven to serve a public good while also saving the government money. The bill, which has passed the Senate Education Committee and will soon be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee, establishes a commission to solicit proposals for high-quality early childhood education, a process of evaluation and a payment mechanism, all closely monitored by the Legislature, Department of Education, and the Governor and Executive Council.
The funding mechanism is known as Pay for Success, and the bill does just that: The outcomes of high quality preschool for our 4-year-olds are rigorously evaluated to assess if predetermined goals are met, including a reduction in costs for third-grade individualized educational plans and for deficiencies in third-grade reading levels. The early childhood education envisioned in this bill is intended to save tax dollars by avoiding more costly interventions in the future.
A portion of the savings would be used to repay investors with a modest return. If the outcomes are not met, taxpayers don’t pay a cent.
This is an innovative model already being used in other states, so we know it can work.
For example, Utah funded its School Readiness Initiative using a public-private partnership investment model. It expanded early education programs to low-income, at-risk children. Sens. Orrin Hatch, Michael Bennet, Kelly Ayotte and Cory Booker have sponsored bipartisan federal legislation to fund just this kind of program, and the recently passed Every Child Succeeds Act provides more flexibility in using federal dollars for quality early childhood education. SB 503 can leverage private investment and federal sources to reduce costs to New Hampshire.
During this time of budget constraints, this bill would help expand programs that are critical to our communities, like early education, without increasing the expenditure of taxpayer dollars – a win-win.
It’s important to note that a preschool pilot program funded through this model would not be mandatory for any children or community, but would provide access to critical programs for those who need it most and whose community apply.
Quality early childhood education makes kids more successful in K-12, and more likely to enter and succeed in higher education. Families will reap the benefits for generations to come, especially by ensuring a workforce that is ready to learn and ready to work.
As Matthew Mowry wrote in “Early Childhood Education: Why Babies Matter to Business” in Business NH Magazine: “Early childhood education advocates are making the case to businesses that childcare is a critical workforce issue akin to health insurance and retirement savings when it comes to worker productivity and satisfaction.”
This bipartisan bill marks an important first step in an investment in our children’s future.
Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, serves on the Senate Education Committee.