Industry Insights New Jersey should get down to business with preschool

NJBIZ STAFF//April 8, 2015//

Industry Insights New Jersey should get down to business with preschool

NJBIZ STAFF//April 8, 2015//

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Common sense makes strange bedfellows, especially when it makes dollars and sense. It’s why a banker who helps individuals manage their wealth teams up with a former CEO who helped people manage their health care. No, we’re not starting a new hospital or health care business. We’ve joined the volunteer leadership group of Pre-K…Every good CEO knows that you need great talent to compete and prosper. Companies invest a great deal of money developing the best talent, because a successful business comes from maximizing the talent you have. The same argument can be made about a successful state, one that is poised to compete and win in the global economy.

Unfortunately, our state is not doing all it can and should do to foster talent, compete and win. New Jersey absolutely must invest more in high-quality preschool to ensure that all of our children are prepared for success in school, career and life.

Research study after research study shows that education begins long before a child begins kindergarten. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman notes that achievement gaps are already evident when children arrive at kindergarten. Those who had quality early learning experiences start school with larger vocabularies, impulse control, motivation, persistence and the social skills to work with others to learn together.

These foundational skills for success in school are precisely the skills we look for when we hire employees. When they are set early in preschool, they persist throughout life. Unfortunately, not every child is fortunate enough to get quality preschool. Those who don’t have access to quality preschool arrive in kindergarten far behind their more fortunate peers, and too many never catch up despite the persistent effort of their parents, teachers and schools.

We can fix that, because we already have the solution in New Jersey’s nationally acclaimed preschool program. Thirty-one school districts in our state have had this program for years and it’s been proven to deliver results.

Evaluations conducted by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University show that children who have had access to high-quality preschool have a 20-40 percent increase in elementary school test scores and are 40 percent less likely to stay back a grade than students who did not have access to preschool. By 4th or 5th grade, these children are, on average, three-quarters of an academic year ahead of students who did not attend a quality preschool and are also less likely to require special education.

Heckman’s research shows gains above and beyond school achievement. Disadvantaged children who receive quality preschool make better employees, command higher wages, contribute more to civic and economic life and reduce the need for costly spending on remediation and social services. That investment translates into a 7-10 percent return on investment for every dollar invested in quality early childhood education. That’s money that goes into the pockets of individuals, taxpayers and businesses. And, making sure each child gets a strong start in life makes sure that New Jersey cultivates all the talent it has in its people and is building the workforce it needs to compete and win in today’s — and tomorrow’s — economy.

Expanding preschool to more of our towns and children makes sense. Having a proven preschool program in only 31 districts makes no sense at all. In 2008, the New Jersey Legislature agreed that our preschool program was so important that it should be brought to 90 more districts in New Jersey. We have been waiting ever since for the legislature to implement the law they passed.

We joined Pre-K Our Way to work with parents, community leaders, educators, early childhood education advocates, foundations, fellow business leaders, elected officials and interested citizens to make preschool an important state priority. We want to expand the quality preschool model that New Jersey already has — through a law that already exists — but has never been fully implemented.

As two business leaders who work in finance and health, we can think of few better investments in the health and prosperity of our people and state than providing each child with access to high-quality preschool. If we increase public will, the legislature will find the way to make this critical investment in a better future for all. It’s time to bring pre-k our way.

Doug Kennedy is CEO and president of Peapack-Gladstone Bank, which specializes in capital investments and wealth management; Bill Marino is the former chairman and CEO of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and currently serves on the board of directors of WebMD. Both serve on the leadership group of Pre-K Our Way, a community-based effort to expand New Jersey’s high-quality preschool program.