A new statewide coalition called Raising New York officially launched in August with the aim of increasing the number of children who are prepared to succeed when they start Kindergarten.
Raising New York made its debut with the results of a poll it commissioned in July. The statewide survey found that only health care ranked higher than education and child care among the top priorities of likely 2020 voters.
“We have parents, we have early childhood education, civil rights, business and health organizations who are all dedicated to increasing the number of children who are on track for school readiness,” said Melodie Baker, co-chair of Raising New York and director of education at United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.
Baker is also chair of the Erie/Niagara Birth to 8 Coalition, which seeks to improve the well-being and education of Western New York children regardless of their life circumstances.
“This a great opportunity to align our efforts, to really gain some momentum, around early childhood and prioritize the needs in Western New York while doing it across the state,” she told WBFO.
Research shows that 80 percent of a child’s brain development occurs by age 3 and 90 percent by age 5. Those early years are a critical window for preparing children for school. Raising New York was established on the premise that hundreds of thousands of families across New York State lack access to the services and opportunities they need to raise “healthy and thriving children.”
“When children go to school Kindergarten ready, they actually cost [the public] less money as adults,” said Jamie Rackl, family engagement manager at the Raising New York coalition member Every Person Influences Children (EPIC) in Buffalo. “They’re healthier. They’re more likely to graduate from high school. They’re more likely to go on to college or to a trade. They’re more likely to take really better care of themselves; they have fewer co-morbidities.”
Raising New York also said school readiness makes students more likely to hold a job, have higher lifelong earnings, own their own home and car, and less likely to commit a crime or become incarcerated, as well as less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. When voters read a brief list of those positive outcomes as part of the recent poll conducted by Global Strategy Group, a majority strongly supported the state doing more for infants and toddlers.
Additionally, an even larger majority of voters (85 percent) supported greater investment of public funds to expand access to high-quality and affordable child care.
Rackl said some of the skills associated with school readiness include letter, number, color and shape recognition. She also said there’s a “huge gap” between the achievement of students who enter Kindergarten with those skills and those who do not.
“It can be as simple as asking your child to pick out the yellow cereal box when you take them to the grocery store,” Rackl said. “It’s not rocket science, but it does take time and confidence, and so EPIC is really—my biggest goal is to build parent confidence that they are their child’s first and best teacher.”
School readiness is also an economic issue because it affects workers and their children—who are, of course, future workers. Over half of parents say child care issues have caused them to arrive to work late, leave early, or to miss work entirely, according to the poll.
“Employers need mom and dad to show up to work, and mom and dad need to show up to work in order to support their families,” said Amber Mooney, director of workforce development at The Business Council of New York State.
Like United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, The Business Council is also lending a representative as one of three co-chairs of Raising New York: President and Chief Executive Officer Heather C. Briccetti, Esq. The coalition is staffed by The Education Trust—New York.
Speaking on behalf of The Business Council, Mooney said this coalition is different because it aims to look holistically at the systems that affect infants and toddlers across New York State. She also said New York is behind when it comes to addressing the multifaceted costs associated with inadequate early childhood development.
“States like Louisiana, Georgia [and] Alabama have been having the early childhood and the child care conversation for several years now. And for a state like New York, who considers itself very progressive, we’re actually a little behind some of our less progressive counterparts.”