South Florida has many, many reasons to be proud and optimistic about our future. However, we have a problem with the potential to undermine our ability to stay competitive in the global economy. Literacy and reading comprehension are at the heart of the issue.
Although Florida attained an 86 percent graduation rate in 2018, and continued to follow the rigorous statewide testing standards for K-12, reading scores remain low in many school districts across the state.
This reality is a serious threat for businesses, our region and Florida’s economic growth. Global competitiveness requires a highly skilled workforce. Where will we find tomorrow’s employees and civic leaders if only one-half of high school graduates are able to pass the state’s reading test?
Reading comprehension is a fundamental educational building block and proficiency must start early if our students are to achieve their potential. Education experts agree that students who demonstrate proficiency by the end of third grade have a much higher likelihood of success in high school and beyond.
PNC Bank and other Florida business leaders are working closely with organizations such as Florida Grade Level Reading Campaign, the Children’s Services Council, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Head Start and the Early Learning Coalition to expand enrollment for eligible children in high-quality Pre-K programs in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and throughout Florida.
Young children who enter kindergarten prepared to learn are more likely to meet critical benchmarks in subsequent years, like third grade reading proficiency. Simply put, career and college readiness begins with kindergarten-readiness.
While expanding enrollment is critical, investing in high-quality programs is just as crucial. Such programs come with significant up-front costs, but research by Nobel Laureate James Heckman demonstrates that every dollar spent on high-quality, birth-to-five programs for at-risk children delivers a 13 percent per annum return on investment. The research also points out that programs lacking high quality standards cannot provide the opportunities our children deserve.
For these reasons, we are convinced that high quality early childhood education offers the best return for our philanthropic dollars. That’s why we created PNC Grow Up Great, a multi-year $500 million flagship philanthropic program and bilingual initiative that began 15 years ago to support quality early childhood education and help primarily underserved children succeed in school and life.
Children who are not ready to learn when they enter first grade face challenges that extend into their adult life, limiting their ability to do well over time. As a result, these students are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school, hindering their opportunities for economic mobility in the workforce.
It is incumbent on all of us to act and give our children the best chance for lifelong success. If parents, teachers and businesses unite, our children will have a very bright future. Please join PNC and others like the Business Alliance for Early Learning, in the quest to provide a high-quality Pre-K education for Florida’s children. It will go a long way to addressing this critical reading problem. Let’s commit to fixing it now.
By Cressman Bronson,
PNC Bank regional president of Southeast Florida