Florida mayors: Gov. DeSantis, make early-childhood education his priority

Early-learning initiatives can lead to fewer high school dropouts, fewer people in prison and higher earnings.
Early-learning initiatives can lead to fewer high school dropouts, fewer people in prison and higher earnings. Getty Images

We mayors and our colleagues take seriously the responsible stewardship of our constituents’ tax dollars. We also know that prioritizing early childhood development is a wise investment in Florida’s future.

We have plenty of evidence for saying so. Research shows that early investment in young children provides greater prosperity for future generations; research also tells us that for every dollar spent on early-learning initiatives, at least $8 will be returned to society in the form of fewer high school dropouts, fewer people in prison and higher earnings.

For these reasons, 101 Florida mayors, including the four of us, have signed on to a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking that he prioritize the early childhood years in his administration. The members of the organization the 100 Mayors represent large population centers such as Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg, as well as suburban and rural communities from Mount Dora to Pahokee, and DeLand. It also includes the cities we represent — Orlando, Naples, Gainesville, and Miami.

We’ve signed on because we know that the basic structure of the human brain is mostly constructed in the first three years of a child’s life. We’ve signed on because we know that were all children cared for and sheltered from damaging stressors in this pivotal time, they would have a stronger start at leading a self-sufficient life of service to society. And the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation tells us that graduates of high-quality early-learning centers are 23 percent more employable than those who did not have access to high-quality centers.

The 100 Mayors, joined by The Children’s Movement of Florida, which spearheaded this initiative, have two suggestions for the governor:

First, make high-quality pre-kindergarten a priority in his education agenda. (Too often, too many people think of education as only the years from kindergarten through 12th grade.) The 100 Mayors and The Children’s Movement would encourage the governor and state legislators to expand their notion of formal education as beginning in Florida’s pre-K, available since 2005 to all 4 year olds. Florida has many high-quality pre-K programs, and not a few otherwise.

Second, we urge the governor to think about “high quality” as the imperative in all early-learning and childcare settings, from birth onward. Get those early years right, and chances are children will have momentum all their lives. (Today, at least 30 percent of all children entering public school are significantly behind, and we know that most of those then fall further behind.) We ask the governor to prioritize these matters in both the budget and legislative agenda.

We say all this with respect for the governor and the choices he needs to make. Getting children off to a good start is sound policy and wise investment in the future of a state we all love.

Francis Suarez is the mayor of Miami. Lauren Poe is the mayor of Gainesville. Buddy Dyer is the mayor of Orlando. Bill Barnett is the mayor of Naples.