An investment in the future

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

Western Tidewater’s future got a little brighter Thursday.

The formal announcement of nearly $500,000 in funding for early-childhood education in Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County is reason for optimism by those who want a vibrant, well-educated, safe community in the decades to come.

If economists who study such things are correct, the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation money will have an $8 million impact on this community. That’s based on a 16 percent rate of return and consists of such factors as a better educated workforce that attracts higher-paying jobs, less money spent on incarceration of criminals, and a smaller welfare state.

Paul Hirschbiel, chairman of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, noted the symbolism of the location of Thursday’s announcement: the Paul D. Camp Community College Workforce Development Center.

“The earliest and most effective form of workforce development is early-childhood education,” he said, noting the improved odds of career success for a youngster who enters kindergarten with the basic skills to succeed academically.

Many people deserve applause for the years of hard work and persistence that led to Thursday’s announcement.

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill was an early proponent and cheerleader for the initiative. The mayor’s efforts led to the formation of the Franklin Early Childhood Commission, which eventually blossomed into a regional organization called Western Tidewater-Smart Beginnings. Barbara Mease of the Children’s Center and Martha Kello of Paul D. Camp Community College worked tirelessly as volunteers until some seed money from the state Early Childhood Foundation allowed for the hiring of a paid director, Connie Burgess.

Smart Beginnings still is volunteer-driven, and much work remains to be done for the initiative to succeed. But a significant funding source was critical to jump-starting the process. The money announced Thursday should pay dividends for generations to come.