Quality education – it's what we want for every child. But educational success has to start early. Teachers and school administrators, along with First 5 Ventura County and the Ventura County Regional P-16 Council, know that too many children enter Kindergarten ill-prepared to succeed. Our K-12 system is then hard-pressed to overcome a costly achievement gap that began as a school readiness gap. It's a problem that impacts all of us; and I would like to invite you to become part of the solution. With the myriad of economic and social challenges facing our communities, you may ask, "Why invest in preschool?" The simple answer: We can't afford not to and here are 3 reasons why Reason 1. Far too many children enter Kindergarten unprepared. High-quality preschool programs give children the social, academic and physical skills they need to be successful learners in Kindergarten and far beyond. Although significant progress has been made with more than 1,400 new preschool spaces created under the leadership of First 5 Ventura County, there are still too few children who have access to a high-quality early education program. Children who are most likely to benefit, such as low income and minority children, are least likely to attend. A 2008 First 5 Ventura County survey determined that an additional 3,000 preschool spaces would be needed in low-performing school districts alone to serve all 4-year old children. Countywide, approximately 50% of our children don't attend preschool; often the same children who are less likely to graduate high school and college. Reason 2. Children who start behind tend to stay behind. 85% of a child's brain is developed by age 5. But researchers have found that developmental disparities between lower-and higher-income children are evident early on. By age 3, a child from a lower-income family likely will have about 1/3 the vocabulary of middle to higher income children. This is especially troubling because early literacy skills are a predictor for later school success or failure; a recent study found that out of 50 first graders who have problems reading, 44 still have problems reading in fourth grade. Reason 3. Preschool is a long-term economic and workforce investment and the earlier we make investments, the greater our return will be. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, found that early interventions for disadvantaged children are more economically efficient and produce higher returns than programs targeted to help teenagers and young adults catch up later on. Cost-benefit analyses show that high-quality early childhood education offers one of the highest returns of any public investment - $7 to $16 for every dollar spent – returns generated by higher earnings, less remediation needed and less long-term reliance on social services. Ask any business leader; competitiveness in the global economy requires problem solvers, innovators, higher-level thinkers, and strong communicators. Attracting and retaining businesses to Ventura County is closely linked with a sufficient local, skilled labor pool and quality of life assets, including access to quality early education. Recognizing the huge cost of an uneducated workforce and the economic benefits of preschool, First 5 Ventura County launched the Business and Community Leaders Alliance of Ventura County. The inaugural meeting was attended by 20 business and community leaders, representing various sectors including health care, banking, agriculture, education, law enforcement, and media. Co-chaired by Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira and Board Chair of EDC-VC, and Dr. Richard Rush, President of CSU Channel Islands, the group will continue under the umbrella of the P-16 Council. Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest, like working together. Through the creative thinking and collective actions of leaders from the business and community sectors, we can make an impact on local preschool expansion and strengthen our children, families—and communities. I personally invite you to join us. Visit our website or give us a call to find out how you can become a part of the solution. Let's work together to give all children a quality education, starting with preschool, and let's give Ventura County a competitive workforce advantage! Claudia Harrison is the Executive Director of First 5 Ventura County.