Opinion Editorial: Investing in kids provides wide benefits

Making a bigger investment in Alachua County’s children would not only help address deep disparities in educational outcomes here, it would benefit all residents.

Local voters will have an opportunity to make such an investment through the Children’s Trust of Alachua County initiative on the November ballot. The measure would authorize an up to a half-mill property tax increase locally over 12 years to fund children’s services, which is estimated to cost the median homeowner only about $3 more per month.

The measure would raise about $7 million annually for children’s programs. A 10-member appointed board would be responsible for allocating the funding in areas such as after-school and summer programs, early childhood education, tutoring and literacy programs, and vocational training.

The county has recently started two programs that demonstrate the kinds of services that would be funded. A new nurse’s home visit program provides parents of local newborns with help in areas such as breastfeeding, safe sleeping and connecting them to needed services.

An early childhood center opening next week in the neighborhood served by the Southwest Advocacy Group will offer training for child-care providers across the community. A program to refer children and families that experience trauma to mental-health services is in the works.

Much more could be done for local children if voters approve the Children’s Trust initiative. Eight other Florida counties have already authorized similar initiatives.

David Lawrence Jr., the former Miami Herald publisher who led a successful campaign for such an initiative in Miami-Dade County, said that programs there include child-care improvements that ensure all kids get the mental stimulation needed to be ready for school.

“If we invest in people — all people — we’ve got a heck of a shot of making this a better place for all of us to live,” he said.

The Racial Inequity in Alachua County report released earlier this year showed the deep disparities that exist locally in areas such as reading proficiency and graduation rates. Making improvements in the educational outcomes of all children requires starting well before they enter kindergarten and supplementing the work being done by our financially strapped schools.

These programs benefit more than just children and their families. Research has found that for every $1 invested in high-quality early childhood programs, taxpayers save about $7 in future costs due to increased labor productivity and reductions in crime and remedial education needs.

With the state inadequately funding pre-K programs and public schools, local voters must decide whether to make that investment themselves. While Lawrence told Children’s Trust supporters gathered Wednesday at the University of Florida’s Harn Museum of Art that he thought the initiative would pass, he said they shouldn’t take anything for granted.

“What you are doing is immensely good — don’t lose this, don’t think you have it locked,” he said.

Voters should visit www.childrenstrustofalachuacounty.org for more information about the initiative. And for those who find it worthy of support, there are about five months before Election Day to help ensure it passes.

 

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