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Special Report: Investing in Early Childhood Education

Early childhood education supporters believe more money needs to be invested into Pre-Kindergarten programs. They said this will increase salaries later on.

PULASKI COUNTY, AR -- At Cato Elementary School, eager teachers make learning exciting.

Three students -- Evan, Elizabeth, and Amelia -- can't get enough of school, according to their mother, Missy Stuckey.

"I don't tell them what they need to be," said Stuckey. 

She's confident her children will reach their career goals, especially knowing more money is being pumped into K-12 education each year.

But early childhood supporters said Arkansas can't come from behind in salaries if they don't invest in Pre-Kindergarten programs. Funding for early childhood programs increased for sometime but have remained stagnant since 2007. Supporters said this impacts the workforce later on.

"If children don't have the opportunity for positive interacting during the first five years, they could start kindergarten three years behind their friends," said Genia Dickey of Invest Early.

Genia Dickey with Invest Early said programs for three and four-year-olds give children that early boost that puts them ahead.

They usually finish at the top of their classes.

"Pre-math, pre-reading skills start very early, so pre-reading skills for a really little kid is vocabulary," Dickey said.

It's those skills Dickey said are what's needed in those top earning fields that Arkansas has a hard time attracting.  Yet while personal incomes in Arkansas are on the rise, they lag behind the national median average by more than $11,000.

"Folks in the business community in the past have been some of our biggest champions for Pre-K," said Rich Huddleston with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Huddleston has studied the impact of Pre-K programs on communities and sees it as beneficial.  But he said unfortunately, Pre-K funding takes a backseat in lean budget years.

"If you show folks the payoff of that type of investment is going to have in their children's education, they're willing to support it," Huddleston said.

Stuckey credited Pre-K for putting her kids at the top of their classes.

"They learned in groups. They learned how to learn. They learned how to follow directions. That's not including the social and emotional aspects of it," Huddleston said.

Stuckey said that's what will carry her children to success and literally pay their way through life.

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