A Publication of WTVP

PNC Bank’s “Grow Up Great” school-readiness program creates strategic community partnerships to help prepare children for success in school and life.

As business leaders from across Illinois search for strategies to improve economic growth, it is becoming increasingly apparent that early childhood education holds a promising key. Many local business organizations recognize the importance school readiness has on building the quality workforce that will decide the state’s future.

While there is no shortage of ways we can work together to make a difference in the lives of students in the state, research indicates that we can achieve the greatest positive impact by taking action before our children even walk through the doors of a classroom. Children entering kindergarten ready to learn are more likely to graduate from high school and move on to post-secondary education.

Education Now, For Later

The benefits of a well-educated workforce include higher salaries, lower unemployment and greater economic stability. The returns on a modest investment in high-quality early education and school readiness initiatives are significant and long-lasting: as much as $16 in long-term savings for every $1 spent, according to a cost-benefit analysis of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, an early childhood intervention program that has been in operation for nearly 40 years.

Unfortunately, almost half of the nation’s kindergartners— including many in Illinois—are unprepared for school. Students from underserved households find themselves academically behind their peers by an average of 18 months. The data shows that not only will they never bridge that initial learning gap, it will grow throughout their school lives. This is especially relevant, given that across Illinois, approximately one in four high school freshmen will not graduate.

The effects of an unprepared, undereducated generation are costly today and may be economically devastating tomorrow. As the state faces the harsh realities of growing deficits and decreasing resources, tough decisions are being made regarding the funding of educational programs. It is apparent that early education ought to be a priority—if not an opportunity for increased support—as one area to impact both the near- and long-term future.

If we improve early education now, research suggests that Illinois won’t have to spend nearly as much later for special education, remedial job training, correctional facilities and other costs that are a drain on economic growth.

This is not a challenge for schools, educators and interested nonprofits to tackle alone, nor is it an issue from which we can expect immediate change. It will take a collaborative and meaningful effort from the broader community—business, civic and philanthropic—to move the needle. We will also need the patience to see that change through.

Grow Up Great

In support of that goal, PNC created “Grow Up Great,” a multi-year, $350-million school-readiness program to help prepare children for success in school and life. Through our partnerships with nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, schools and Head Start programs, we have launched science, math, arts and financial education programs with key learning centers throughout central Illinois. Our multi-year programs with local partners are designed to reach more than 6,200 children throughout the Peoria area and central Illinois.

Together, these initiatives are helping to ensure that early education programs and resources are a priority throughout all of Illinois. While we are not alone in caring about and working toward improvement, more financial support and collaboration will be needed in the face of an uncertain future and an ongoing need to amplify current efforts. PNC Bank is committed to growing businesses in Illinois and supporting the many communities we serve. We look forward to working alongside our public officials in making that vision a reality with a focused and increased investment in early education. At stake is the future of Illinois, in whose well-being we all have a shared interest. iBi

Doug Stewart is regional president for PNC Bank, Central Illinois.