REACH: Commentary

Paul D. Koonce
Chief Executive Officer
Dominion Virginia Power

Without question, effective public education is one of government’s most important functions. For good reason, it has formed the largest part of the Commonwealth’s general fund budget for many years.

The success of our schools defines both the quality of life for the citizens of Virginia and its economic competitiveness.

But our schools can do their job only if students arrive there equipped for success. Unfortunately, in Virginia’s programs for school readiness, there is significant room for improvement.

Virginia’s public sector already makes solid investments in services that prepare children for school, including home visitations, subsidized child care, state-funded preschool, and early intervention and special education. But there are notable gaps in quality, funding, access and accountability.

While this is a challenge, we should not be discouraged. In my business, we also have challenging goals: reliable service for all our customers, fulfillment of our regulatory requirements, safety and operational excellence. If we fall short, we redouble our efforts. My company makes the investments needed to fulfill our obligations and meet our goals.

Virginia can follow a similar path in strengthening state efforts to promote school readiness.

A large body of research demonstrates the impact that the quality of early childhood experiences has on lifelong achievement, as well as communities and society in general. If the Commonwealth expects to see the return on investment that has been documented by this research, we cannot skimp on the inputs and we must address some strategic gaps.

For example, some of our excellent home visiting programs are not available to children in every part of the state due to lack of funding. Some communities are unable to draw down available state support for preschool for at-risk four-year-olds. In some regions, there is a shortage of affordable child care, particularly for very young children. Many low-income working families do not receive assistance for the high cost of child care, even though they are eligible. And we lack data on outcomes and performances that could help us develop even stronger implementation of and better investments in publicly provided programs supporting the worthy goal of school readiness.

No corporation could succeed with strategic gaps like these.

Business leaders in the Commonwealth have stepped forward, ready to provide leadership and investment and work shoulder to shoulder with leaders in the public sector to provide a cohesive system preparing our children for school. The state Chamber of Commerce’s Blueprint Virginia process has also received feedback from the business community indicating just how critical school readiness is for economic success.

Both the public and private sectors obviously have a stake in how well prepared our young citizens are for both school and entry into the workforce; both sectors must take responsibility for supporting it.

At Dominion, we recognize that strong early childhood development is the first rung on the ladder to workforce success. We invest in Smart Beginnings so that communities across the Commonwealth can capably bring public and private expertise to bear to ensure school readiness for all children. And it will take both the entrepreneurial prowess of Virginia’s corporations and the knowledge and mastery of our government systems by our public officials to ensure that all children are prepared for school. This public-private combination is needed to knit together a high-performance, effective system in communities across the state.

A candid assessment of our school readiness system will give it good marks in some areas. But in others, we can do far better. Building a high-performance system is not an overnight endeavor. Public and private sector partners must join their efforts, holding each other accountable for developing and implementing effective financing and policy solutions. Together, we can develop outcome-oriented strategies and make data-driven decisions that will help ensure every child in the state has the opportunity to be successful in school, in the workforce, in life.

Virginia’s business community is committed to doing our part to improve early childhood education and related services. We will continue to work in partnership with state and local government, as well as the nonprofit and faith communities, to give every child in the Commonwealth the best possible chance for success.


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