A small price for our children | AspenTimes.com

A small price for our children

Arn Menconi

No child can grow up twice, that is why this November, I am asking Eagle County voters to vote YES to raise more than $3 million annually to help children under the age of 8. These funds are for the purpose of improving the quality, availability and affordability of early childhood services for Eagle County children.The argument for promoting early childhood development programs is a simple one: The most critical and formative years in a human’s life are from birth to age 8. That’s when the patterns for learning and socialization are established. It’s that simple.Experts like Eagle County resident and author Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., will tell you research confirms that well-targeted investment in the physical, intellectual and emotional well-being of young children has a significant payoff not only for the individuals involved, but also for the community as a whole.Investments like these improve children’s long-term chances for school success. They improve the statistical likelihood that they will graduate, become productive workers and taxpayers, and maintain productive, law-abiding adult lives in the community. In fact, studies show that for every dollar spent on early childhood development, the community can save up to $17 in future costs to society. This small investment can save all of Eagle County money in the future.Don’t be confused. The proposed early childhood development property tax increase isn’t a day care tax. That’s misleading, and simply not true. It’s about health care programs, family support, education and mental and social development. It’s not about government raising your kids. It is about putting programs in place to help hard-working parents make the most out of this critical time in their child’s life, and in turn, benefit the entire community: you and me.How small is the investment? The annual property tax increase on a $400,000 home would be only $48 a year. That’s less than $1 per week to help make this community better for all of us.Last year the Eagle County Commissioners initiated a yearlong study of need, program capacity and development of a community early childhood plan. With more than 100 experts in early childhood development, educators, health practitioners, social workers and parents, we learned a lot. Certainly, more than I can share in this column.Nearly 60 percent of our families with young children need child care in order to work. In our county, nearly 3,000 children under age 5 need child care because of working parents. Only one in five of the them are cared for in licensed programs – where a child’s health and safety can be assured. If we don’t have adequate and good child-care, we can’t retain our work force.Almost one in four Eagle County families have no health insurance. Children who are not healthy experience difficulties when they enter school and do not develop emotionally, mentally and physically. Many times the families are forced to bring their child into our emergency rooms without coverage, affecting everyone’s insurance rates.In a survey of parents of children under the age of 9, 45 percent of Eagle County parents reported concerns about their child’s social-emotional development. Only 110 children received Child Find Screening in the 2005-06 school year; it did not include social emotional screening. Screenings should reach a minimum of 500 children annually.Using more detailed risk factors, we estimate that more than 2,000 young children may be at risk. Yet, our existing program capacity to reach these children is less than 300. Our most at-risk children are often born to parents who aren’t emotionally or financially ready to be parents. Early intervention can yield very positive outcomes for everyone. Children who start kindergarten with good language and social skills have a much better chance of success. Children who start behind often stay behind. The best way to improve schools is to improve the quality of students we send to them.After completing the assessment of the “State of our Children,” the experts wrote a plan with programs, goals and costs to improve the quality, availability and affordability of early childhood services for Eagle County families.When asked where the money raised from the tax would be spent, I say toward programs and services outlined in their business plan is the obvious first place. When this ballot question passes, the Board of Eagle County Commissioner will create an advisory committee of local experts in the field and create criteria of what areas should be funded. The dollars will support programs that are proven to have the most evaluative measures and that collaborate with other groups such as the mental-health workers, hospital, school districts and child care providers.If we pass this compassionate initiative together, we can:n provide more child care spaces with qualified staff at affordable prices;n establish parent resource centers;n develop high-quality family visitation and teen-parent programs;n develop early-care and learning programs for toddlers through preschool;n create affordability and access to health care;n provide services for mentally challenged children.Let’s face it: You know as well as I do that Eagle County is an expensive place to live. Our gas prices are high and our housing prices higher. Young couples are starting families with a huge cost challenge when it comes to child care and child health care.In our community’s economy, we really depend on parents with children to round out our work force as teachers, paramedics, municipal staff and many other positions that are full-time, year-round. These are the kinds of jobs for which we want to have the continuity of longtime employment. Yet, when lack of programs and service are provided, it is harder to retain and recruit those with children.If you are an Eagle County voter or can register to vote in Eagle County, I am asking you to make a very small investment in our children. As a father of two young children, an executive director of a charity that serves at-risk youth in our community and your county commissioner, I am convinced that this is the greatest void that must be filled in our county. We must invest in our kids. We must put our kids first. We must match our wealth with our compassion.Our campaign committee is Eagle County Cares for Our Kids. Our group is made up of leaders in the fields of business, health, education, mental health, early-childhood development and government, who understand the need for our children and families. If you would like to assistance us in winning this election or learn more about the research of need and costs, please contact me at arn@vail.net or go to our website: http://www.eaglecountycares.Arn Menconi is an Eagle County Commissioner. Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at at 925-3414, ext.17624 or e-mail nhavlen@aspentimes.com.