Local leaders joined a statewide initiative kicked off by first lady Kathleen Sandoval on Tuesday to focus on early-childhood education.
“At that young age where children’s minds are absorbing everything, they need the very best at their disposal,” said Richard Stokes, superintendent of the Carson City School District. “I pledge my services, my resources, whatever I can to help in this effort.”
Strong Start Nevada is a community-outreach campaign, managed by the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, that’s aimed at uniting educators, businesses, lawmakers and families in making early education a priority.
Sandoval pointed out that Nevada has been the only state to not have a businesses-backed effort to support education. However, she announced Tuesday that the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce joined the initiative, and she encouraged businesses and chambers of commerce in Northern Nevada to join as well.
“It’s an investment in our future we can’t afford not to make,” Sandoval said.
About 70 percent of Nevada children do not attend preschool, and 75 percent of the state’s fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, reports show.
The governor’s two-year budget approved by lawmakers in 2013 added $120 million in general funds to public schools, the first increase since the recession. About $328 million was targeted to reduce class sizes in early grades, and $50 million was set aside for early English language learner programs.
Stokes said children perform better when they learn earlier. He pointed to a survey in 2013 that showed 13 percent of kindergartners enrolled in the all-day programs were reading at grade level. The next year at the same time, 61 percent tested proficient.
“It made a huge difference,” he said.
Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said he is often left to deal with the results of children who do not succeed in school, noting that seven out of 10 inmates do not have high school diplomas.
“There is a strong and distinct link between academic failure and our criminal justice system,” he said. “I’m the guy you pay later. I’m the guy with mud on his boots chasing these guys down to incarcerate them because they didn’t have other alternatives.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.