The Cardinals are a pee wee, touch football team made up of 15 four-year-olds. One of them is Xavier, one of the tallest players on the team, on the left-hand side wearing number 3. Xavier is a bright, energetic young boy, and is often heard indignantly telling his mom, “I can do it myself!” We first learned of Xavier because his mom, Elena, works with my colleague Caroline, who is the lead organizer for Colorado Fair Share. That’s how we found out about the Aurora Cardinals – and about the obstacles Xavier and many of his teammates face.
Last Spring, Elena began researching pre-kindergarten options for Xavier. To her dismay, Elena found out that even though they qualify, there would be no free Pre-K for Xavier this fall. Instead, he would be placed on a waiting list – along with 800 other Aurora four-year-olds.
Xavier wouldn’t be the first, nor would he be the last one on that waiting list. Eight of the 15 players on the Aurora Cardinals pee wee team are on the wait list, waiting for the chance to start school. Apparently, there’s room for these youngsters on the football field, but no spots in the classroom.This is a growing problem in Colorado. Of the state’s nearly 70,000 four-year-olds, fewer than one third are allowed into the Colorado Preschool Program, with thousands turned away this fall due to state budget shortfalls.
And the loss for Colorado’s kids is tragic, and goes well beyond the 15 players on the Aurora Cardinals football team. Any police chief, prosecutor, business leader, teacher or surgeon will tell you that when children participate in high-quality early learning programs in the first five years of life, they do better in school, get higher-paying jobs, rely less on social programs and contribute more to the economy. Early access to Pre-K improves health; reduces the need for special education, educational remediation and welfare; reduces high school dropout, juvenile justice and incarceration rates; and increases home ownership, employment and economic productivity. But will the Aurora Cardinals get these advantages?
Update: We just received word that Xavier is no longer wait-listed and will, in fact, soon be in preschool. 799 kids to go...
This is not just about helping children, although for many of us, that is the most desirable outcome by itself. It’s also about making our economy stronger and our workers more capable of competing in a global system. Think of the prosperity that will flow from a strong education system if Colorado, and the U.S. as a whole, found herself ten years from now with the world’s best and strongest early childhood education programs.
Congress is considering legislation that would help give the Aurora Cardinals a brighter future. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would dramatically expand access to early childhood education for millions of American children, including kids like Xavier.
So what can we do? A good place to start would be to tell Aurora's congressman, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, that we care about this issue and that he needs to make it a priority. Unfortunately, education does not appear to be one of Coffman’s priorities. A visit to the “Issues” section of his government-funded web site yields 15 tiny words on the entire issue of education:
“The issues pertaining to public education are best left to state and local school boards.”
The Aurora Cardinals recently ended their season on a high note, playing their hearts out all the way to the semi-final round in their playoffs. But for the players, there is a game of life that has just begun. Unless we as a country commit ourselves to making sure that every player on the team has a fair shot in life, the game could be over in the first quarter. Let’s make sure the Aurora Cardinals get to play all four quarters on a level playing field.