Most real estate agents will tell you that location is the most important factor to consider when buying property. Over more than 30 years of developing real estate across the country, I have found that timing is equally important.
In the public sector, as in the business world, timing can be everything. This June, California voters will have a unique opportunity to strengthen our schools. Proposition 82 also known as the Preschool for All Act will provide quality preschool to all children for one year before kindergarten. Given the documented benefits of early education, this initiative could not have come at a better time for California's children.
Last year, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce became one of the first groups to endorse Proposition 82 because our board recognized that keeping Southern California competitive for business depends on improving our education system. And quality preschool, as Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has argued, is one of the most cost-effective investments we can make.
After decades of research, we now know that quality preschool gives kids a head start on learning, because it takes advantage of a period when children's brains are developing rapidly. Studies have shown that preschool improves academic performance in reading and math and reduces the chances that a child will need remedial education or be held back in school. Preschool also pays dividends beyond the school gates through lower crime and increased earnings.
Yet only one out of five children in California has access to the kind of quality preschool programs that provides the most benefits. Good preschool programs are much more than just day care. They are taught by a well-educated teacher who blends learning with play, introducing children to letters and numbers, the building blocks of later success in reading and math.
While quality preschool programs are in short supply, many families are simply priced out of the market for preschool. The average cost of part-day preschool in Los Angeles County is $3,783 per year, more than a year of college tuition at a California State University campus. In addition, the majority of publicly-funded preschool programs have waiting lists, forcing low-income families to make other arrangements during a crucial year in a child's life.
Proposition 82 will make quality preschool voluntarily available to every family. It will raise requirements for teachers and provide funding for training and recruitment to make sure there are enough of them. It is based on LAUP, a successful program already in place in Los Angeles, which funds private, public, and nonprofit preschools. By investing in the diverse network of existing preschool providers, Proposition 82 will ensure that all children have access by 2010.
Importantly, Proposition 82 includes strict accountability measures, including annual, independent audits; limits on administrative costs; and criminal penalties for misuse of funds. The cost of Proposition 82 is about $2 billion per year, but the benefits are expected to be much greater. According to a recent analysis by the Rand Corp., a program of universal preschool in California would generate $2.62 in savings for every dollar invested.
Some of the wisest business leaders in California, including former Mayor Richard Riordan, Eli Broad, John Doerr, and Reed Hastings have taken a look at Proposition 82 and concluded that it is a smart investment. In addition, Preschool for All is backed by a bipartisan coalition of California's teachers, organized labor, leading law enforcement officials like Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as the San Francisco and Oakland Chambers of Commerce.
In the coming years, we face enormous challenges in California from an increasingly diverse population. Proposition 82 will strengthen our schools and invest in the next generation of business entrepreneurs. I believe that the timing of this initiative, on the ballot June 6, could not be better.
Robert Lowe is founder and CEO of Lowe Enterprises Inc. and a board member of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
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