This is the first of a new series of articles from the Madison County Chamber. The purpose is to bring to you brief perspectives on a range of issues outside the central functions of the Chamber, primarily larger social issues tied to the vital role of the business community as corporate citizen.
This first PRIMEIME installment asks you to consider the issue of Early Childhood Education in Madison County and the vital need for fund development, policy development, and program support from business and all sectors of our community. According to a 2010 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, “To keep America competitive and strong, the business community must be actively engaged on issues related to our nation’s educational system as a means to ensure an educated citizenry of self-sufficient, lifelong learners who have the skills needed to thrive in the global workplace, today and in the future.”
The U.S. Chamber report goes on to underscore the importance of early childhood education and the need for children’s access to high quality programs that include a strong family engagement component, academic preparation, strong accountability measures, and high quality standards. With these factors in mind, then, how are we doing in Madison County? Well, meet ALICE.
ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) focuses on social and financial issues related to households above the federal poverty guidelines ($23,000 annual income for a family of four), but less than what is needed to meet basic needs. For this group of working families, for example, rainy day savings are impossible because they spend every penny on survival. Few have liquid assets of any type. As of 2014 in Madison County, 21% of our 52,650 households were ALICE. Another 16% were living at or below federal poverty guidelines. Statewide, fewer than 4% of four-year olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs, and thousand of these children are on lottery system waiting lists. These few statistics do not bode well for the future of our state, or for Madison County.
And so, what can the business community do to help?
First, there is an opportunity to provide financial help to local public or private quality pre-K programs. Second, the United Way of Madison County is an ardent supporter of the maintenance and expansion of such programs, but scarcely has the resources to fully meet the demand. The national Chamber recommends that business use its influence and voice at the policy level. The lottery system that has thousands of pre-K children waiting in line, for example, needs to be fixed. Although Hoosiers generally support quality pre-K programs for all children, our state legislators need to hear from the business community on the issue. Obviously, this is not meant to discourage support of specific local programs, or to our great United Way. Rather, it is intended to help Madison County and our state meet the demand at the massive level at which the demand presents itself.
The investment in our children is an investment in our future, and it’s personal, too. After all, as someone once said, a high-spirited tri-cyclist is a terrible thing to waste.
Primus Mootry is a weekly columnist for The Anderson Herald Bulletin and chairman of the board of The Anderson Impact Center.