JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
Early childhood education is key to a child’s success, and the business community must take an active role in ensuring the issue is at the forefront of education discussions.
That was the message early childhood education advocates sent to attendees at the Naples Chamber’s Wake Up Naples on May 8. The monthly breakfast is a chance for Chamber members and community leaders to come together to discuss issues important to Collier County, Southwest Florida and the state.
Niccole Howard, the executive director of Collier Child Care Resources, said the goal of everyone in the early childhood education field is to get all children ready for kindergarten.
“This is our future economy, our future citizens of Collier,” said Howard. “We need to make sure we get them ready, and I assure you kindergarten is too late.”
The Florida Scorecard estimates that 53% of students across the state were ready for kindergarten in 2018, while 49 percent of Collier students were ready for kindergarten. According to a Future Ready Collier report, approximately 4,000 low-income Collier children under the age of 4 are not in an early childhood program.
“I think for the last 20 years while we’ve made remarkable progress in public education I think the single most important piece we’ve missed since Day 1 is the fact that if we don’t allow children to come to kindergarten ready, the rest of the system doesn’t matter,” said Vance Aloupis, the CEO of The Children’s Movement of Florida and a state representative. “Almost one in every two children in this state are going into kindergarten not ready, and it’s really difficult to catch people up.”
Aloupis said the business community needs to be an advocate for early childhood education, calling it a workforce issue.
“It is your responsibility as the business community to make this a central issue,” he said. “If you think this is an issue of today, you’re right. But this is an issue for tomorrow. Your workforce in Collier County for 2030 is in second grade right now. If you are not preparing them, you will not be able to compete in 2030.”
Aloupis and Howard applauded Future Ready Collier, of which their organizations are part of, for its work to advance the early learning issues in Collier County. But they also encouraged attendees to do more to shine a light on the needs.
“I think the most important thing that has happened in this conversation, and in my 10 years, is that the business community understands it is more than just a feel good issue. It’s a practical issue. The inequities we have in Florida will not be solved by the conversations we’re having around education reform. It will be solved by making sure every child, in every county – all 67 across this state – can walk into that kindergarten classroom with the foundation that each of you would want for your own children or grandchildren,” said Aloupis. “That is my challenge to you today. That’s why I’ve spent the last 10 years running around this state trying to get people to understand the importance of this issue. But I’m telling you right now, we will not win this war unless the business community owns it, like we’ve tried to own it for the last 10 years.”
To find out who your local legislators are and to make your voice heard, visit the Chamber's action center at www.napleschamber.org/actioncenter