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Seventh-graders Neil Sadhukahan, left, and Ryan Leung work on a spatial visualization problem in their algebra class at Thomas Russell Middle School on Wednesday morning, May 22, 2013, in Milpitas, Calif. California releases their semi-annual Academic Performance Index numbers this Friday. Thomas Russell has scored well in past API's. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

If you are able to read this, stop now.

How remarkable is it that I can write these words and you can read them? What if you couldn't read well? The ability to read is so fundamental we take it for granted.

But last year more than half of California third graders tested below proficient in English-Language Arts. Reading is the foundation of academic success. How well children can read by end of third grade predicts their future prospects.

A child who reads by third grade is four times likelier to graduate from high school than one who is already behind. Kids who fall far behind academically are likelier to become teen parents and to tangle with the criminal justice system. Those who don't get a high-school diploma will earn $325,000 less over their lifetime than their peers who graduate, and $1.3 million less than those with a college degree.

True, the number of California third graders reading proficiently has grown in recent years, reflecting efforts to improve teaching and to help struggling readers catch up. But the achievement gap exists even before children start school. Children from low-income families are likelier to arrive at kindergarten without cognitive, social and emotional skills leading to success in school.

So I was excited when President Barack Obama called for a national investment in early childhood education in his State of the Union address.

The president's plan recognizes the need for high-quality education in a young learner's life, beginning at birth and continuing through age five. It calls for high-quality preschool for every 4-year old and expanding effective programs such as Early Head Start and voluntary home-visiting programs.


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Neuroscience shows the early years represent an important opportunity to develop academic and social skills shaping a child's ability to succeed. More than 100 studies in the U.S. show preschool benefits children's school success. During preschool years, children not only develop core academic knowledge, they also learn how to pay attention, manage emotions and complete tasks.

Here in California, where half of low-income children do not have access to State Preschool or Head Start, we would benefit from a federal-state partnership prioritizing access to early learning programs for all children.

We can show Congress that California is a leader in early childhood education in order to leverage new federal funds. We can restore the $1 billion in early childhood funding cut from the state budget since the recession. We need to build and strengthen programs for our most vulnerable infants and toddlers by making early learning a priority.

For years, the East Bay Community Foundation and our donors have been investing philanthropic dollars to ensure East Bay children have early experiences necessary to learn successfully by the end of third grade, setting them on a path to college and a career. As the president pointed out, every dollar invested in high-quality early education can save more than $7 later on.

This is why I'm standing with educators, legislators, business leaders and child advocates around the state calling on Congress to enact President Obama's Early Learning Plan and to support a new federal/state partnership to ensure every California child has access to early education. It's time to invest in our earliest learners as if our future depends on it -- because it does.

Nicole Taylor is the president and CEO of the East Bay Community Foundation.