Most parents would tell you that pre-school and kindergarten are very important for their children, but a lot of parents might not know just how vital an early education is.

(Jupiterimages, ThinkStock)
(Jupiterimages, ThinkStock)

More than a dozen education experts showed up in Trenton for a Senate Education Committee hearing Monday and they gave panel members a very good idea how valuable an early education is.

“At kindergarten entry the achievement gap was cut in half for the pre-school attendees with two years having twice the impact of one. Differences between attendees and non-attendees persisted through fifth grade. There was no fade out,” said Ellen Wolock, Director of the Division of Early Education with the State Department of Education. “Children who attended pre-school were three-quarters of a year ahead of those who did not attend.”

A strong early education can often lead to a lot of great things later in life, including less need for repeating a grade and a reduction in remedial classes to help students catch up to their peers according to Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

“There’s increases in high school graduation and also decreases in behavior problems, delinquency and crime and all of those things contribute to increased employment, higher earnings, decreased welfare dependency and also we find a decreased engagement in risky behaviors like smoking, drug use and even improvements in health behaviors,” Barnett said.

New Jersey has the best early education system in the country, but poorer urban areas are still struggling to improve, according to another expert who testified.

“Pre-school is an important investment not only in the future of our children, but of our state,” said Cecilia Zalkind, Advocates for Children of New Jersey executive director. “It sounds trite to say that, but it’s really true.

After hours of testimony, the chairperson of the committee had seen enough evidence to say that there has to be an all-out push to make sure that every child in the Garden State has access to the maximum amount of early education

“We have to move forward so that there is a kindergarten slot for every child in the State of New Jersey,” said State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark). “It is 2015 and it doesn’t make sense to me that we still have districts that only offer a half-day.”

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