Every Child Promise unveils Pre-K access and school readiness pilots

Before a standing-room only audience at First Baptist Church Tuesday morning, Every Child Promise Co-chair Todd Parnell used his lecturn like a pulpit to deliver a heartfelt and convincing oration on why Springfield should support early childhood education.

It’s not just a social issue or a crime issue when kids start kindergarten without being ready for the rigors of the next 12 years of education. It’s about workforce development and economic development. The Every Child Promise is a quality of life promise and a humanitarian promise, said Parnell, who with his wife and Co-Chair Betty Parnell, has spent months leading more than 150 volunteers on five subcommittees to develop the strategic plan announced Tuesday.

The Every Child Promise states: “Our community promises to empower families, so that every child age birth to six has the opportunity to enter our schools ready to learn.”

“This promise is homegrown,” Parnell said. “This promise is consistent with treasured community values.

“Every parent and every child who wants access will be able to afford it. We’ll do it our way, the Springfield way.”

“Our way” is laid out in a series of strategic priorities, including four being implemented immediately. The three-year price tag for the first four priorities is $1.2 million, plus administrative expenses. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks is one of the seed funders to support the administrative process, along with CFO President Brian Fogle serving on the steering committee and Executive Vice President Julie Leeth co-chairing the Early Child Care Committee.

The four pilot project priorities include:

  • Expanding the home-visiting program similar to the Parents as Teachers program with five additional parent educators for three years to serve 450-550 children per year.
  • Implementing the Every Child Promise Scholarship Program to provide 50-60 kids with access to high-quality pre-kindergarten for three years.
  • Creating a public/private Pre-K Educational partnership between Springfield Public Schools and a private provider.
  • Creating a public/private Nutritional Food Partnership with Convoy of Hope to improve nutrition for food-insecure children.

The Every Child Promise steering committee is past the halfway point in raising the private funds needed to implement these initial priorities.

Every Child Advocate Dana Carroll encouraged the community to stay tuned for upcoming information on volunteer opportunities. She also said the committee is seeking community buy-in through a crowdfunding project to raise $12,000 to provide 10 scholarships for kids to access high-quality Pre-K programs. Contributions of any size can be made on the CFO’s crowdfunding platform at https://www.causemomentum.org/projects/every-child-promise.

Lacey Nunnelly, a board member for the Lighthouse Child and Family Development Center, which has one of its two locations housed at First Baptist Church, described how the private, Christian-based center, supported in large part by The Musgrave Foundation and other grantmakers, involves the whole family in its programs to build family resiliency.

“We know that this work is slow and success doesn’t come quickly, but that success will be life changing,” she assured the audience of about 200.

Architect and former Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Tim Rosenbury cited an Arkansas cost-benefit analysis that showed a return of nine times for every dollar spent on early-childhood education for the critical years before age five when 90 percent of brain development occurs.

“It’s a transformative long-term investment in families and our community,” Rosenbury said.