I would like to respond to the April 29 article “Per-student pre-K spending lowest in decade,” concerning the reduction in spending on early education as it pertains to South Carolina.

As a former public school teacher, professor of education, and author who focuses on early brain development, I am very concerned.

The “smartest” any of us will ever be, arguably, is around age two years, when we have more possible neural connections than we ever will again. Estimates are 100 trillion synapses or “connections.”

With robust neural plasticity and the right stimulation and enrichment, many children in South Carolina could be potential geniuses.

I am not exaggerating. Our brains actually double the number of neurons during childhood.

Sadly, without appropriate and direct enrichment, these neural pathways are “pruned away,” sometime around age nine or 10. Hence, our current attention to third grade retention makes some sense. If children do not read on grade level by the end of grade three, it is very difficult to regain that ground.

Yet, it seems that South Carolina and much of the rest of the United States ignores this important research, at least in real terms.

We are spending less on what counts the most. As a fiscal conservative, I am careful about committing dollars.

In this case, however, every dollar spent on pre-school, early literacy, parent education, and stimulation of at-risk children’s brains is worth its weight in gold.

Poverty affects the youngest brains in profound and threatening ways. In South Carolina, in spite of our efforts to add good jobs and to improve high school graduation rates, poverty is a continuing challenge.

By the age of six, a child who lives in poverty holds about 3,000 words in his or her expressive language (words used freely), while an affluent child typically has over 20,000 words. Read that again. It is no mistake.

The sheer number of words that a child can use as well as the number of books in the home are huge and reliable predictors of later school success and personal independence.

Both of these critical pieces can and should be impacted by our attention to and subsequent spending on pre-school initiatives.

Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian medical doctor who shaped much of what we now do in early education, said:

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”

The people of South Carolina, especially those in a position to commit tax dollars, should consider the young, innocent brain and the inherent possibilities for our state and nation if we do not provide consistent, high quality enrichment for all children.

Dr. Linda Karges-Bone

School of Education

Charleston Southern University

University Boulevard

North Charleston