Bonnie Ward, Guest contributor | Chillicothe Gazette
Mike DeWine’s recent release of his children’s agenda was a lot more momentous than you might think. For years government and political leaders have been saddled with the costs of social disorders resulting from poverty and poor education affecting children in some parts of the state. Too many kids who reach adulthood in Ohio simply don’t have the knowledge and tools to succeed on the job.
As DeWine knows, social disorders are disruptive and costly. They include unemployment, crime, incarceration, and drug use, all of which are debilitating to the individual. But we all pay the cost. For example, the state of Ohio spends $2 billion a year to jail 50,000 people in our prison system – which is about $72.23 a day, per prisoner. And the opioid crisis alone imposes costs on our state at more than $1 billion a year.
Child experts have known for a long time that programs designed to fix these problems once they occur are doomed to a low success rate. The reason is that the mental development that leads on to success for most of us occurs in the first three years of life.
Key markers of eventual success in life lie in good prenatal care, healthy birth weight and early infant care, strong nutrition, freedom from neglect and abuse, mental stimulus like books in the home and early learning of letters, numbers, colors and basic vocabulary needed for school. Children who start well learn well. But children who don’t, go on to fail at very high rates.
Until DeWine spoke a few weeks ago, this has not idea been popular among political leaders. After all, there are hundreds of demands on state resources. And it’s a cynic’s reality that infants and toddlers don’t make political contributions and don’t vote.
But this view is short-sighted. The failure in youth and young adulthood for large numbers of Ohio children cripples our state. Services for them consume tens of millions of tax dollars, costs which put our state at a strong disadvantage in the world competition against nations that don’t have these problems.
Thank God for Mike DeWine, who speaks the truth and has the political will to do something about this impacted problem in our state. DeWine has shown the courage to make a kids agenda central to his campaign, and central to his plans as governor if he is elected. He’s going to need a lot of support to change the course of history for poorer and deprived children.
Taking care of children, especially neglected children, is clearly a moral issue. But it’s a stark economic issue as well, and also an opportunity.
If you live in a prosperous suburban enclave and don’t believe this problem affects you, you are wrong. The costs of today’s children failing will be borne by your sons and daughters when they reach adulthood. Not only will productive Ohioans bear the cost of services for those who don’t have the tools to hold jobs, but our state’s economic strength will be sapped, costing us jobs and a decline in our quality of life.
Grim as that picture may be, the opposite is just as bright. If we seize the lead among states in tackling and solving the problem of growing all of our children into productive, self-sufficient adults, we will stand as a beacon and as a magnet for businesses. If we succeed, we will be able to offer capable, trained, reliable workers on one hand, and lower government costs than other states on the other. Prosperity will follow.
As obvious as this may be, it has taken a leader of courage to tell it the way it is: the years from womb through preschool are the most important in the lives of all our children. Mike DeWine has used his bully pulpit to put in motion plans that can actually work, even if they don’t result in instant gratification.
Mike DeWine has said what needs to be said. Now he must be given the authority to put his plans in action.
Bonnie Ward is a former teacher for Waverly City Schools and a member of the Republican Central Committee in Pike County and the state GOP Central Committee.