By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — A group of kids gathered in a circle around Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday morning as he read the British children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney.
Patrick fit the part at the Birth to Three Family Center on Market Street, even taking his shoes off, singing songs and partaking in snack time. He was in town to meet with local officials to talk about his proposed education investment plan, which includes increased spending for early childhood development from birth to 5 years old.
The plan calls for $350 million to go toward early education over the five years, $131 million for next year alone.
“We have to start governing for the next generation,” Patrick said. “That means making the kinds of investments right now that we know are going to build stronger citizens, stronger workers and a stronger community.”
After snack time, Patrick met with Ipswich Superintendent Rick Korb, principals, School Committee members and other officials to discuss the plan.
“It was an opportunity for us as local officials to share our programs like Birth to Three,” Korb said. “It shows the importance of funding to keep programs like this going for early childhood intervention.”
Birth to Three Family Center in Ipswich, under the guidance of the Ipswich Public Schools, is partially funded by an annual grant from the Department of Early Education and Care. Four years ago the center received $150,000 a year, Korb said, but that has been cut to $60,000.
“I was very hopeful,” Korb said of the meeting with Patrick. “His commitment to early childhood development is evident in his budget.”
School Committee member Jen Bauman said she was honored to have Patrick recognize the center as a quality program.
“His priority to put funding in early education is in line with my priorities for the Ipswich Public Schools,” Bauman said. “It is evident that studies have shown the importance of early education for kids entering kindergarten. It provides a necessary foundation for later success.”
Katie Marino and her 3-year-old daughter, Violet, were there for the visit. They come to the center once a week for the 3-year-old play group.
“I think it is great for the exposure, to show how great the place is,” Marino said of Patrick’s visit. “I feel lucky to have this in the community. It has been a great way to meet other people in town.”
Patrick sat next to Violet during snack time. Marino said Violet recognized him from TV during last week’s blizzard.
Patrick said he enjoyed his visit with the kids — who made Valentine’s Day cards for him — and the later discussion with local officials.
“To listen to the principal of a local grammar school talk about the readiness of kids who come into kindergarten who had the Birth to Three experience is exactly what it is all about,” Patrick said.
The investment plan totals approximately $550 million in its first year and increases to nearly $1 billion annually over the next four years. It calls for eliminating a wait list of 30,000 children for early education programs by providing universal access to high-quality early education for all infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The plan would also expand initiatives to improve program quality and support professional development for staff, and increase family engagement and ; “assist early educators and providers attain higher levels of proficiency, skill and quality,” according to a statement.
The plan also calls for improvements to K-12 and higher education. For the plan to move forward, it was must first get through both the House and Senate. “It is never done until it’s done, and nobody ever likes the idea of raising taxes. I totally get that,” Patrick said.
Still, he said, it would be worth the investment.
“We were driving up today on a highway that exists because our grandparents made some decisions to invest in our future,” Patrick said. “When I look at these children, we ought to be thinking about this the same way.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.