Pre-school classes touted as economic-development tool

October 11, 2005

Do toddlers hold the key to West Virginia's economic future? Yes, according to a Marshall University study released in Charleston, W.Va., on Sunday.

Whether the state is ready to abandon more conventional strategies remains to be seen. But the idea deserves some thought, because the argument advanced by Mike Basile makes sense.

Basile, co-chairman of West Virginia: A Vision Shared, said in a press release that firms looking for new sites can expect the same sorts of incentives in most states.

A better-educated work force, however, would yield a return of $5.20 for every economic-development dollar spent, although The Associated Press reports that the yield wouldn't necessarily be in cash.


Instead, it would come in the form of higher high school graduation rates, more students attending college and a work force ready to take on higher-salary jobs.

Those are the long-term prospects, but the study also said that in the short term, parents whose children are in early-childhood education programs would likely be more productive employees with fewer child-related absences.

Where would the money come from for such programs? Margie Hale, executive director of the West Virginia Kids Count Fund, suggested the creation of an endowment fund to pay the estimated $60 million to $120 million cost.

Another possibility: Businesses would provide such programs for 3- and 4-year-olds at plant sites. Child advocates attending the conference said this would deal with the fact that most of the state's early-education workers are poorly paid and, as a result, turnover is frequent.

Would such a change of philosophies work? Advocates for a new system will have to fight tradition and the fact that other states offer direct subsidies to companies that bring jobs, including tax breaks, free utility hookups and low-cost land.

When a company is knocking at the door, it would be hard to say "no" to such requests. We recommend that if such a change is made, West Virginia begin marketing itself as the state that's training the work force of the future, beginning in nursery school.

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