Early childhood development and education have been among my highest priorities since the day I took office.
Unfortunately, the fiscal realities of this global economic recession have kept us from investing a lot of new money into that area … but with a lot of thought and hard work we are revolutionizing how Kentucky delivers services to this fragile population.
One of the biggest challenges for our K-12 public school system is that too many children come into kindergarten year unprepared to learn.
Some are plagued with health problems. Others have had little mental stimulation and don’t possess the basic building blocks of knowledge expected by that age.
Preparing those children – all of our children – for a lifetime of learning is the goal of the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education, which I created two years ago.
Earlier this year the task force delivered its first report, which was a catalog of all the wide range of services and programs Kentucky offers families and children from prenatal to the start of school.
Those services are delivered by a variety of state government agencies … local government … health, mental health and social service agencies … non-profit and for-profit providers … and federally funded quasi-governmental entities.
On Monday the task force delivered to me its second and final report, which features eight recommendations designed to create a framework – a unified vision -- for Kentucky’s state agencies, community partners and families to work together to improve early learning experiences and opportunities.
You can see the report at www.educationcabinet.ky.gov, but essentially it revolves around the fundamental concept of “school readiness.”
That concept is so fundamental that the task force developed and adopted as its mission statement the following definition:
“We want each child to enter school ready to engage in and benefit from early learning experiences that best promote the child’s success – ready to grow, ready to learn, ready to succeed.”
We owe all of our children the opportunity for a promising life.
That’s equally true whether they live in the inner city, in a remote mountain community, on a farm or in a suburb.
And when we fulfill that promise, when we create a curious and whip-smart work force, we position the state for economic success.
In today’s world, the most valuable currency is not gold or trade goods or coin … but intellectual capital.
Brains and skills.
The ability to think, to create, to solve problems, to posit theories and test them and to stretch boundaries of knowledge.
Those abilities are not created in adulthood or in college. They might be strengthened there, but the seeds of intellect are planted much earlier.
Earlier than high school. Earlier than elementary school. Earlier even than kindergarten.
Quite simply, people learn most rapidly in the first three years or so of their life.
That’s not just development theory – that is biological fact.
So for Kentucky to position itself as a competitive force in the knowledge-based world around us, we must do a better job of positioning our children – all of our children – for a better start in life.
We will be studying the report and its recommendations in the days ahead to determine how to proceed.
In the meantime, I want to thank the co-chairs of the task force -- Secretary Janie Miller from the Health and Family Services Cabinet and Secretary Joe Meyer from the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet – as well as the 26 other members of the task force for their time, commitment and expertise.
These included public and private child-care providers, school system personnel, college professors and business leaders.
They met 16 times as a group over the past 20 months, listening to experts, studying reports, reading research and inviting the public to participate.
The report was a vibrant process … and its successful implementation could be a long-term game-changer for this state.