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Featured Report

Featured Report

Right and Smart: Case Statement 2009

In 2009, Imagine West Virginia released its policy study Right and Smart: Advancing Early Child Development in West Virginia. This document presented compelling research to reaffirm the organization’s consensus that it is vital, even in times of economic uncertainty, that we provide every West Virginia child with the best chance for a healthy, productive life. Making such an effort is both the morally right and economically smart thing to do.

West Virginia has approximately 122,000 citizens under the age of 6. About 64,000 – roughly half – are deemed “at risk” in terms of the care and education required to reach their full potential.  The number of at-risk children age 3 and younger is smaller still, since many children under age 6 already receive appropriate care and education through the state’s four-year-old prekindergarten program and other public education and health programs.

It is increasingly apparent that the future of our children depends on giving them the best possible start during – and even before – the first three years of life. The research behind our study, guided by Dr. Cal Kent of the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research and Ms. Barbara Gebhard of Zero to Three, has demonstrated that investments in programs that give children the best possible experiences in the first three years pay substantial dividends as they grow older. In fact, leading economists conclude that in terms of return on  investment, even modest investments that are spent to enhance early childhood experiences can pay huge dividends and are one of the most effective forms of economic development.

While the challenge of early child investment may seem significant, it can be quite manageable for West Virginia. Imagine West Virginia distributed an open letter to state policy leaders urging their support of this issue and offered two specific, evidence-based recommendations that are components of a series of steps West Virginia must quickly take to reach the ultimate goal of creating a cohesive, comprehensive plan for early child development.  Our recommendations included 1) advancing a system of early child care which is available, affordable and adheres to a quality rating and improvement system (QRIS), and 2) creating a comprehensive system of in-home family education across the state, providing quality parenting assistance both before birth and in the first years of life.

Imagine West Virginia took the opportunity to add its voice to a number of distinct advocates of early child development in West Virginia to advance these recommendations, including Gov. Joe Manchin and the first lady, members of the Legislature, members of the Governor’s Partnership in Implementing an Early Care and Education System (PIECES) coalition, varied child education and health stakeholder groups, grassroots activists, nonprofits and parents. Ultimately, we welcomed the Legislature’s passage of legislation to establish a quality QRIS system for West Virginia, and we were equally supportive of Gov. Manchin’s effort to designate funding to expand available home visitation services. 

Yet more work remains. We must continue to keep the focus and synergy going on early child investment. Engaging this issue head-on is a critical priority. We have the opportunity – indeed the responsibility - to enable all West Virginia children to become healthy, productive and successful citizens of the Mountain State. Let’s embrace the chance to work together to advance this cause!

To read more about the Imagine West Virginia early child investment campaign, click here.