ST. CLOUD -- St. Cloud Area School District hosted an Early Childhood Literacy Breakfast Thursday morning at Tech High School.

The focus for attendees was the value of teaching children to read as early as possible.

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Big Benefits From Early Reading

Art Rolnick, co-director of Human Capital Research at the Humphrey School of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota was a keynote speaker. He says while the educational and economic advantages of early literacy are stunning, funding is always a challenge.

Jeff McMahon - WJON
Jeff McMahon - WJON

There are some incredible longitudinal studies that make the point that there's a very high public return to investing in our most vulnerable children. The best public investment we can make is not building another sports stadium for the Vikings - don't get me started there. The best public investment we can make is investing in our most vulnerable kids at the very beginning.

Rolnick was involved in several long-term studies that looked at the cost savings of early literacy programs over a student’s academic life. He reported returns as high as 18%, compared to the market returns of the time at about 5.

We got an 18% inflation-adjusted return because public schools are saving a significant amount of money because the kids don't need specialized (education). Society saves money because the child ends up getting a job paying taxes, and staying off welfare. So that was the bottom line.

St. Cloud Is Ahead Of The Curve

Todd Otis is a life-long advocate of childhood education. He said District 742’s current programming should be a model for the state.

Jeff McMahon - WJON
Jeff McMahon - WJON

I honestly believe this community could be a shining example to the rest of the state of coming together around early childhood, and early literacy, but also moving the needle with early literacy for early childhood. There are so many pieces already in place here. You have great leaders and a new superintendent. You're building on strength, you're building on things that are already in place, with people already doing terribly important work.

However, Otis expressed frustrations over implementing early literacy programs statewide.

Research at the Wilder Foundation said that for every low-income child ready for (Kindergarten), it's an $800,000 benefit to the Minnesota economy over the course of that child's life. That's reduced crime and reduced costs for people who aren't ready. And so the economics of it are powerful. And frankly, it still is a moral issue. Grownups have the power to do much better than they have. These four-year-olds can't go to the legislature and give them a check. These four-year-olds don't vote. But dammit, that's our future.

The breakfast also featured a question and answer session where teachers, administrators, and business leaders brainstormed ways to increase early literacy programs in the region.


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