A closer look at early childhood spending | VailDaily.com

A closer look at early childhood spending

Alex Miller

Predictably, some people’s reaction to the notion of more government support for early childhood programs ran along familiar conservative lines. Rather than assess the potential benefits which are numerous commentators focused instead only on the immediate concern of their pocket books:”Another government ripoff to the taxpayer …!” howled one comment on our Web site. Another pointed out the fact that Eagle County already has the federally funded Head Start program, adding that more “government giveaway will only encourage more illegal aliens to move into Eagle County, making our situation worse, not better.”Good grief.The reaction was in response to a story Scott Miller wrote in the Daily recently about commissioners Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon floating a trial balloon on the issue of a property tax hike to fund early childhood programs in Eagle County. There are no immediate plans to put the question to voters. Setting aside, for now, the question of whether taxpayers should have to help local families with childcare in any way, what are some of the issues and potential benefits of such help?-Our public school system was established at a time when most mothers stayed home with their kids; thus no programs for kids until kindergarten. Eagle County has one of the highest percentages of working mothers in the country, and local families rely on day care to do the dual-income thing in a county with a very high cost of living. Is it time, then, to extend some of the benefits of public education to preschoolers?-Early childhood programs are statistically proven to give kids an important boost in life; a boost that has great potential for benefits to taxpayers down the road in the form of less people in jail, on welfare, clogging the courts, etc. Kids who’ve gone through preschool are more likely not to repeat grades, they do better in school overall and demonstrate less discipline problems than kids who don’t do preschool. As a result, they tend to grow into more responsible adults less dependent on the public dole.-Local families, even in income brackets that would make them solidly middle class in other areas, struggle to pay preschool tuitions or other daycare provider costs that range between $700 and $1,000 per month. It’s a given that many families can’t afford private school, yet parents of children under 5 must pay the equivalent of private school education just so they can both work. Believe me, this is not just a concern for low-income families or illegal immigrants.-Like many resort areas, Eagle County is under pressure from forces that threaten to drive out local families entirely. As second-homeowners drive up the cost of real estate, more families either give up and move away, or they relocate to outlying areas and commute to work. If we want to preserve any sense of community, we need to find a variety of solutions to this, and helping parents with preschool is just one of them. It needn’t all come from the government, either; local companies owe it to the community they do business in to help create a more hospitable environment for their employees.-In Summit County, where a similar initiative passed last November, the impact to property taxes was negligible: About $16 per year on a $400,000 home translated into $600,000 for the county’s “Right Start” program. Given the value of real estate in Eagle County, it’s likely most property owners wouldn’t even notice a bump like that but our families sure would.No doubt Runyon and Menconi will get their usual spate of vitriol from the Norquistian hardliners on the right who won’t cough up a few pennies for local families but don’t blink an eye at the trillion or so we’ll spend on Iraq. After all, it’s a lot easier to say “no, no, no” than to assess the facts and use a little compassion to do the right thing. Rather than be pilloried for suggesting daring to bump taxes to help local families, the two commissioners should be praised for opening a dialogue on an important element of one of the biggest questions facing our county: how to keep our community intact by supporting the families who call the place home.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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