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Meeting makes pitch for quality preschools

Written March 28th, 2014 by
Categories: In The News

The Star, Friday, March 28, 2014

By Aaron Organ

AUBURN — Is northeast Indiana crazy about its kids? Well, it’s at least discussing them. A crowd of nearly 60 people gathered at Metal Technologies Inc. corporate headquarters in Auburn Tuesday night to watch videos from last month’s early childhood education summit in Indianapolis.

The video, “Are We Crazy About Our Kids?”, told the story of the long-term economic impact of early childhood education and highlighted several preschools around the United States and Canada. It highlighted impressive results from successful preschools with highlevel teachers and low student-teacher ratios.

Students at Perry Preschool in Michigan were followed for 40 years in a study that showed a 50 percent drop in crime and a 7-10 percent return per year from each child who received quality early education. A study of a Canadian preschool showed each child produced a net return to society of $100,000. A preschool in Chicago produced students who return more than $84,000 to society.

A school in Salt Lake City, Utah, started an early childhood education curriculum with 238 children expected to need special education. After two years, only 11 were assigned to special education, and the state found that after four years, it saved $1.4 million.

“Investing in early childhood is a no-brainer at this point,” the video concluded. “Our system is paying for failure rather than investing in success. The question is, ‘What will we do about it?’”

Dr. Robert Dugger, a venture capital investor and a retired partner in a hedge fund who spoke in Indianapolis and whose talk was shown Tuesday night to the crowd, said the early childhood education movement — creating a “kids-first” nation — should come with business leaders leading the charge.

Jeff Turner of Auburn, senior vice president of Metal Technologies, agreed.

“Metal Technologies is keenly interested in this,” Turner said. “A lot of our jobs are entrylevel jobs, and we have to train them with skills. So we’re keenly interested in ready-for-life 18-year-olds, and that starts with ready-for-life 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds and 5-year-olds. We’re fully supportive of this as a company and the James Foundation. We just need to figure out, as a donor community, how best to spend the money. How do we best leverage the resources that we have to create the best atmosphere?”

Judy Sorg, director of Learning Link, an education initiative of Community Foundation DeKalb County, said business leaders such as Metal Technologies are instrumental in getting the early childhood education discussion ball rolling, primarily through their dollars.

“Business leaders have an important role to play, and if we can provide some education and help them become engaged and involved, we can further advance the field of early childhood education,” Sorg said. Hence Tuesday night’s discussion.

Also vital are legislators. This week, Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Indiana’s first funding for preschool, pushing dollars into a voluntary early childhood education pilot program to help some 1,500 children from low-income families attend preschools.

State Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, said discussion on early childhood education is loud at the Statehouse, and he favors the idea. Figuring out how to fund another year of education without raising taxes, though, is another ball game.

“I like the idea,” said Smaltz. “I like the concept. … Where do you find that without raising taxes somewhere? Which is what we’re trying not to do. We’re trying to lower taxes and increase revenue. That’s what I’m struggling with in my head.”

Dr. Sherry Grate, superintendent of DeKalb Central Schools, voiced her glowing support of early childhood education.

“Absolutely it’s an investment that the state of Indiana can’t afford to continue to not address in some way,” Grate said. “I was happy to see some form of legislation begin to enter the conversation about preschool. If we were able to, even as a school district, to look at opportunities somewhere down the road, we would love to be at the table to talk about that.

We’re very supportive of it, and we’d like to be a part of developing the future of preschool for early childcare in DeKalb County. The investment that’s been made in our county with Learning Link — I’m extremely optimistic with what we can accomplish in DeKalb County.”