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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball: Early childhood education is an investment in our future | COMMENTARY

Last week, leaders from around our community gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Bauder Education Center, an early education program of the Community Action Council of Howard County at the Long Reach Village Center.

The early education program Head Start provides free preschool to eligible 3- to 5-year-olds, and this new location allows for our partners at CAC to double their enrollment from 38 to 79 children. For our kids to be ready and successful students, we need to give them a strong foundation.

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One of the earliest ways to set up kids for success is giving them access to quality education before kindergarten. Yet, many of our families with lower incomes are struggling when it comes to access to early education for their children. While Howard County is known for having one of the highest median incomes in our nation at approximately $120,000 per household, it also has one of the highest costs of living.

In Howard County, 26% of families with children younger than 5 find quality early childhood programs out of their reach. Additionally, about 5.3%, or nearly 17,000, of our residents live below the national poverty line, and one of our largest demographics struggling with poverty is female heads of household with children younger than 5.

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That is why our Head Start program, which can now serve 362 children in Howard County, is critical for our young residents. The program is spread across four early education centers, including this recently expanded space at the Long Reach Village Center. The program is designed to prepare children socially, emotionally and academically for kindergarten. The center will also serve as a family support center that provides wraparound services that include housing, energy and food assistance, while children are receiving a high-quality education that prepares them for kindergarten and beyond.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the cracks and ruptures already present in our community, and it is up to us to fill these gaps and make sure no one is left behind. Head Start is not only investing in children and families but supporting our community’s health and economic vitality. We’re investing in our future.

From early math and reading skills to confidence and resilience, Head Start helps children build the skills they need to be successful in school and life. Head Start participants are 12% less likely to live in poverty as adults and 29% less likely to receive public assistance. Evidence suggests Head Start not only helps kids develop and allows parents to go to work, but it may also help at-risk kids from ending up in the foster care system.

Programs like Head Start are just the beginning of what is possible when we invest and support our working families in Howard County. As the pandemic has clearly illustrated, child care is essential, and it needs to be more accessible and affordable to our residents. We’ll continue to work toward a community where all our children have the resources and support needed to thrive.

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For more information about Head Start, to learn about eligibility requirements or to enroll in the 2021-22 school year, go to cac-hc.org.

The writer is the Howard County executive.

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