The workforce pipeline begins with quality early education. Sadly, this fall, according to the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP), 44% of Virginia’s children entered kindergarten not ready in one or more critical areas of literacy, math, self-regulation and social skills. That number is even higher for children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Put yourself in their little shoes and take a stroll down memory lane as to how you would improve your own education. Virginia can and should do better for our children.

E3:Elevate Early Education set out eight years ago to make public investments in high-quality early education a top priority. We started with a three-prong strategy:

  • Define the readiness gap by creating the VKRP;
  • Advocate for a Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission study and use the findings as a springboard for investments in quality; and
  • Demonstrate to policymakers that investments in high-quality early education lead to all children being ready for school by creating a prototype model, The New E3 School in Norfolk.

While our state has made significant strides over the past few years in recognizing the importance of quality early education, there still is much work to do.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s comprehensive $95 million early education budget package is good for Virginia, our pre-K-12 and higher education systems, and is essential to building the business community’s future workforce.

E3 is leading a diverse coalition and campaign, Early Education Matters (VAEARLYED.org), to show our legislature that now is the time to invest in increasing access for children, improving the quality of programs, creating a lasting impact and ensuring equitable solutions for all of Virginia’s children and families. The coalition is comprised of several local chambers of commerce, early childhood advocates and programs, educators, schools, superintendents, small businesses, business and community leaders and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

We cannot allow the achievement and readiness gaps to persist. When children start school behind, they struggle to keep up with their peers and might continue to fall further and further behind.

The way to tackle this problem is to invest in early education and support the legislation and budget package being considered in the General Assembly — House Bill 1012 by Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, and Senate Bill 578 by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax.

The legislation and budget will:

  • Close access gaps for 3- and 4-year-olds in low-income families and serve more children;
  • Enhance the Virginia Preschool Initiative and increase the per pupil amount;
  • Adopt a uniform quality measurement and improvement system that will help parents find quality programs;
  • Support early childhood educators and classroom quality improvements; and
  • Consolidate and transition state oversight of the early childhood system to the Virginia Department of Education.

Recently, Virginia was named the most business-friendly state in the nation by CNBC in its 2019 rankings. A significant reason the commonwealth garnered this honor is attributed to the number of skilled graduates entering the workforce. We must continue to produce a strong pipeline of candidates for highly skilled jobs. That begins with a world-class education system where bridges are built among early education, K-12, higher education and the workforce.

Members of the General Assembly should stand with early childhood advocates and programs, business and civic leaders, philanthropists and local communities to support this legislative and budget package to ensure all children, no matter their ZIP code or socioeconomic background, have an opportunity to attend high-quality programs. It is up to all of us to provide the resources for all children to succeed. This truly will be the first step to connecting the four fundamental levels of education.

As our elected leaders draft their budgets, I urge them to make children a priority by fully funding the early education budget package before them. When Virginia’s children thrive, Virginia thrives.

Gil Minor is the retired chairman, president and CEO of Owens & Minor Inc, a Fortune 200 company serving the health care industry. He has served as chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and serves as chairman of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council and vice chairman of E3: Elevate Early Education. Contact him at: info@vaearlyed.org

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article. You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.

Your sports-only digital subscription does not include access to this section.

SALE!
Only $3 for 3 Months
Unlimited Digital Access

  • Unlimited access to every article, video and piece of online content
  • Exclusive, locally-focused reporting
  • News delivered straight to your inbox via e-newsletters
  • Includes digital delivery of daily e-edition via email
SALE!
Only $3 for 3 Months
Unlimited Digital Access

  • Unlimited access to every article, video and piece of online content
  • Exclusive, locally-focused reporting
  • News delivered straight to your inbox via e-newsletters
  • Includes digital delivery of daily e-edition via email