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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.
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Early learning boost

I wrote last month about some promising developments in early childhood education in northeast Indiana. One of those was the foundation support offered by PNC Foundation, a new presence in the region as a result of the PNC Financial Services acquisition of National City Bank.

PNC Foundation has a 10-year, $10 million commitment to early learning through its "Grow Up Great" initiative. The foundation today announced $100,000 in local grants: Science Central received a two-year $50,000 grant to support its science education program; Early Childhood Alliance received $20,000 for its Book Buddies program for Burmese families with young children; Martin Luther King Montessori School received $10,000 to develop a classroom science program; and the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo received $20,000 to cover programming costs for young visitors from CANI Head Start and MLK Montessori.

Early Childhood Alliance Executive Director Madeleine Baker said the agency hopes to serve as many as 80 Burmese children in a program designed to promote literacy skills through letter recognition, phonological awareness, vocabulary awareness and development and narrative skills -- "an holistic approach to school readiness," she noted.

Each of the grant recipient groups will offer programs designed to inspire learning -- targeting children from some of the community's neediest families.

If it all sounds like a feel-good effort, it's not. It's actually good business -- the kind of investment top-tier companies know they must make.

Children from the Burmese refugee families, for example, are growing up in homes where English is not the first language and basic literacy and math skills might be lacking. If the community doesn't make an effort to help the children before age 5, they will enroll in school unprepared and require additional dollars to catch up.

Wise business leaders understand that investing in early learning saves tax dollars and can create future customers and employees. The payoff isn't quick, but there's plenty of research to support rich financial returns.

Indiana's top political leaders come primarily from public-sector experience, so they haven't grasped the connection between investment in early learning and saving money or they simply aren't interested in long-term benefits for the state. Given Indiana's poor record for public spending on preschool (among the 12 backward states who invest no money), we're fortunate to have business leaders who are more forward thinking.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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