Business, government leaders rally for Head Start in East Portland

Discover why a retired company president is leading a campaign to fully-fund Head Start programs. And, see a cute photo of Governor Ted Kulongoski reading to kids at the rally at Russellville …

Governor Ted Kulongoski read the storybook, “David Goes to School”, to the children in such a colorful and engaging way that, the kids at the Head Start program at Russellville didn’t pay attention to the reporters and TV gear at the “Ready for School” campaign stop.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
“If we want to cut crime, reduce social services expense, and boost the state’s economy, fully-fund Head Start programs statewide.” This is the message delivered at a “Ready for School” campaign rally in Russellville on September 12 by business leaders, politicians, and the East Precinct police commander.

While Governor Ted Kulongoski appeared at the rally as a media drawing-card, Richard Alexander, the retired founder of Oregon-based Viking Industries, talked up the initiative effort.

“The statewide ‘Ready for School’ campaign is committed to making early childhood education available to all eligible children living in homes below the poverty level,” Alexander told us in a private interview. “Our organization is made up of concerned folks, none of whom stands to benefit — either financially or politically — from this effort.”

Those listed as initiative supporters range from liberal to conservative; and come from all sectors of the economy. “We’re a diverse group, but we all agree that early childhood education will improve the lives of many children. But more importantly, it will improve their lives as adults.”

Retired founder of Viking Industries, Richard Alexander, makes his case in favor of early childhood education before a well-attended press conference at the Russellville Head Start program.

Economic argument for Head Start programs
Early childhood education is a critical economic issue for Oregon, Alexander, Chair of the “Ready for School” campaign, explained. “Without a good education, children tend to do poorly in school. Many drop out of education along the way. Those who ‘fall’ along the way eventually get ‘caught’ in our social safety net. They are more likely to become incarcerated throughout their lives.”

During his remarks at a press conference held at the Russellville Head Start Center, Alexander said the research he’s seen is convincing:

“If a child isn’t reading at the third-grade level at the end of the third grade, the odds are high they will not be reading at ninth-grade level in ninth-grade. They are likely to drop out of school.

“Too often these kids go into the fourth grade and beyond, and decide that won’t be measured by academic standards. Mentally, they drop out of school. They get big enough to walk out in ninth grade.

“After that, if they drop out, the likelihood they’ll get in trouble with the law, or be incarcerated, goes up very sharply. As they grow into adults, they are likely to depend on long-term social services, including lifestyle-induced medical problems.”

Head Start breaks poverty cycle
Sadly, Alexander added, it is likely that the children of poorly educated individuals will repeat this cycle. “We’re trying to break that cycle. Things clearly don’t need to be this way.”

To back up his sentiment, Alexander produced the results of research studies demonstrating that a child who has been in Head Start is twice as likely to graduate college as one who didn’t. “That’s compelling. In addition to their having a more fulfilling life, consider the enormous economic savings to society.”

On the bandwagon

Oregon’s education superintendent, Susan Castillo, speaks up for early education programs.

State Superintendent of Schools Susan Castillo, spoke briefly, noting yet another benefit to the program: “Every dollar we invest in Head Start means fewer teen pregnancies.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski said he visited the outer East Portland Head Start facility in Russellville to draw attention to the need for early childhood education.

Governor Ted Kulongoski remarked, “We have a changing society. In this competitive global economy, change is the rule of the day. How do we give every child in Oregon an opportunity to compete in this economy?‚ĶInvest in education and skills training. Oregon’s niche should be to have the best trained, skilled, and educated workforce of any state in the country.”

Merkley cites a 17 to 1 return on investment
While not an official speaker at the event, Oregon Representative Jeff Merkley told us he attended to show his support.

“I’ve been championing full funding for the Head Start program. I’m glad the governor came to my district to support this campaign for early childhood education. It is really clear that when you invest in children, the returns for society are enormous. The young people have happier and more productive lives, pay more taxes and consume less social services.”

Merkley added, “Reports I’ve seen shows a 17-to-1 return on dollars invested in early childhood learning programs. This is well worth considering.”

The antidote to crime: Hope
We asked Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs why he was at this event.

“I support this new campaign for Head Start,” Crebs related to us, “because education and mentoring for young people are keys to reducing crime and the fear of crime.

“It’s all about hope. People who are educated tend to have more hope in their lives. People who have more opportunities are less likely to become involved in criminal activity. They’re more likely to be productive, tax-paying citizens.

“From my experience as a police officer, it’s clear to me that people who have the hope and opportunities that education brings, typically don’t get in trouble. The ones we see [in the criminal justice system] are the ones who have no hope.”

Behind the scenes: Ever wonder what is going in the room during a “photo opportunity” set up for person running for political office? The scene isn’t quite as warm and cozy as it looked on TV news.

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¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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