Early education pays off


As community leaders search for strategies to improve local economic growth, it is increasingly apparent that education is the key to Toledo’s future.

The Blade’s recent series “Education Matters” outlined the educational challenges Toledo Public Schools faces. The series also chronicled inventive solutions this region has carried out in an effort to overcome its educational shortfalls.

There is no shortage of ways we can work together to make a difference in the lives of Toledo students. But research indicates we can achieve the greatest positive impact by taking action before our children walk though the doors of a kindergarten classroom.

Children who enter kindergarten ready to learn are more likely to graduate from high school and move on to postsecondary education. The benefits of a well-educated work force include higher salaries, less unemployment, and greater economic stability.

A modest investment in high-quality early education and school-readiness initiatives yields big returns — as much as $16 in long-term savings for every $1 spent, according to a cost-benefit analysis of the Perry preschool program in Ypsilanti, Mich. These benefits are significant and long-lasting.

Unfortunately, almost half of the nation’s kindergartners, including many in northwest Ohio, are unprepared for school. Students from low-wage households find themselves behind their peers academically by an average of two years. Data show it is incredibly difficult to bridge that initial learning gap, which will likely continue to grow throughout their school lives.

In the Toledo metropolitan area, an estimated 2,000 high school students dropped out during the 2009-10 academic year. About 24 percent of ninth-graders in the Toledo area will not make it to graduation.

The effects of an unprepared and under-educated generation are costly today and may be economically crippling tomorrow. As our community faces the harsh realities of growing deficits and decreasing resources, we will need to make tough decisions about how to pay for educational programs.

Early education ought to be a priority for increased support, to affect both the near and long-term future of our region. If we improve early education now, research suggests that northwest Ohio won’t have to spend nearly as much money later for special education, remedial job training, correctional facilities, and other costs that are a drain on economic growth.

This is not a challenge for schools, educators, and nonprofit institutions to tackle alone. Nor is it an issue on which we can expect immediate change.

It will take a collaborative and meaningful effort from the broader community — business, civic, and philanthropic — to move the needle. We will also need the patience to see that change through.

In support of that goal, PNC has created “Grow Up Great.” This 10-year, $100 million program in school readiness helps prepare children for success in school and life. We are working with the Toledo Zoo and Head Start to ensure that early-education programs and resources are priorities throughout northwest Ohio.

We are not alone in caring about and working toward improvement. But more financial support — and more collaboration — will be needed to cope with an uncertain future and an ongoing need to amplify current efforts.

PNC is committed to helping businesses grow in Toledo and supporting our community for many years to come. I look forward to working alongside my fellow business leaders and executives to make that vision a reality, with a focused and increased investment in early education.

Brian Bucher is regional president of PNC Bank in Toledo.