"There is perhaps no issue more important than how we educate our youth."
On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate Education Committee (quoted above), was at the Statehouse, offering some Vermont lawmakers an overview on federal education policy.
"I am very concerned that, on many levels, we are failing our youth," Sanders told members of Vermont's House and Senate education committees. "We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at 4 or 5 years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education."
Children are our future. The youngsters of today will grow and become tomorrow's leaders. And the foundation we can lay in those early, highly developmental years will yield returns throughout a child's journey to adulthood.
But, with budgets constricting and states constantly forced to evaluate and re-evaluate every aspect of every budget ... well, we don't need to tell you that sometimes the most vulnerable -- children and seniors -- are effected the most.
That's what makes last year's $36.9 million federal grant -- dubbed Early Learning Race to the Top -- so important.
When announcing the grant this past December, Gov. Peter Shumlin said it would set the foundation for low-income and high-needs children to succeed in school.
"As you know, early childhood education is extraordinarily important to ensuring that every child in this great state has a strong start and a bright future," Shumlin said. "Where we fail is moving more low-income kids beyond high school," Shumlin said. "We do that primarily because they do not get a strong start. They don't have the opportunity to get a strong start."
On Wednesday, Sen. Sanders called that grant "a good start," but urged, "we must do more to ensure that quality programs are created for families to help educate their children."
The Reformer Editorial Board echoes Sanders' assertion that this is only one part of the solution. As we said, early education lays the foundation for all that is to come. A more concerted effort must be made to improve every step along the way.
That means improvements and upkeep of school buildings. (One need look no further than the recent struggles Leland & Gray is having balancing a "responsible" budget with infrastructural improvements.)
That means better support for teachers (both in terms of pay and respect).
That means expansion of after-school and summer programs. (In today's society, where children are living in either single-parent homes, or homes in which both parents are working just to makes ends meet, this added support system is a must.)
"(T)he truth of the matter is that, as a nation, we are not doing well in this state and throughout this country," Sanders told VTDigger in December. "There are millions of working families that are desperately in search of high quality, affordable, early childhood education."
No one is naive enough not to understand the state of our economy, on a state, regional and national level. Sanders, himself, on Wednesday called the effort to ensure "every kid in this country, regardless of income has high quality early childhood education" an "expensive proposition."
That's true. But turning a blind eye to the problem, today, will create bigger problems in the future.
"I worry that today you probably have millions of kids who are right now sitting in somebody's living room watching dumb television programs rather than getting the quality early childhood education both on an intellectual and emotional basis that they need," Sanders told lawmakers.
That's our fear, too.
And what does that say for our future?