What’s in a name?

In the name of the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, there’s a word that makes some of us nervous:

Cradle.

Conservatives correctly deplore the folly that cradle-to-grave big government should — or can — provide ever-rising quantities of “free” health care, college tuitions, child care, retirements, food, cellphones, etc.

Now the TCCC, a wide-ranging coalition of business and civic leaders, is advocating cradle-level assistance to low-income children.

Chaired by philanthropist Anita Zucker, the group’s goal is to inspire data-based action to close our community’s growing gaps in education, employment and income.

Zucker, a highly successful businesswoman, persuasively warns that unless we improve the quality of our workforce by improving local public education, the people on the losing end of those gaps won’t be the only ones paying a painful price.

But “cradle”?

Heck, the Regional Education Report issued by the TCCC nine days ago even cited “prenatal care” as a key factor in “a child’s ability to learn.”

Gee, is this a Womb to Career Collaborative?

OK, so far too many kids in these parts lack not just good (if any) prenatal care but stable homes, positive role models, crucial early education and parental support for school work.

On their first days of preschool, kindergarten or first grade, those kids are already way behind much luckier children in not just knowing some reading, writing and arithmetic but knowing how to act in class.

Some children of poverty overcome such difficult circumstances for which they bear no blame.

Many don’t.

What to do about it?

For starters, recognize the ominous implications of that uneven playing field.

Then take proven methods that have helped level it elsewhere and apply them here.

Still, how do you sell the major extra taxpayer expense inevitably required for this preemptive rescue mission to voters justifiably wary of a Nanny State intent on coddling everybody from the cradle?

Other buzz terms that can set those on the ideological right, left — and in between — on divisive edges:

Income inequality: Even some not so liberals are expressing serious concerns about this challenge.

How to close that growing gap? Higher taxes on the rich?

So who’s rich?

Karl Marx borrowed this line from Louis Blanc: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

So “from,” “to” and “according” to whom?

Hey, true conservatives — and we’re not all rich — aren’t wary of big-government redistribution of wealth because we lack compassion for the poor.

We’re just leery about liberals’ Robin Hood-like zeal for taking from the alleged haves and giving to the have-nots. And we have not seen the poor reap lasting benefits from the patronizing, perpetuating process of becoming ever more dependent on government.

A rising tide lifts all boats: This elevating maxim hails the free market — history’s most powerful engine for not just individual but collective prosperity.

Then again, some folks, including kids, are so far from that kind of water that even economically booming flood tides don’t reach their boats.

It takes a village to raise a child: Then-first lady Hillary Clinton borrowed that African proverb for the title of her 1996 book “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.” The credo still rings true — especially for children born into tough situations .

No Child Left Behind: It’s sounds harsh to oppose the title theme of that sweeping education reform legislation championed by the political odd couple of President George W. Bush, who signed it into law in early 2002, and Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Yet should Washington really run public education as a sort of national school board?

Want to learn a hard lesson?

Try telling a teacher that the landmark bill’s steep escalation of standardized testing was a good idea.

Yes, NCLB has been a driving force behind the advance of school choice, which gives families more and better educational options and encourages parental involvement.

But what happens to children whose parents don’t choose school choice — and to the “failing schools” abandoned by those who choose to get their kids out of them?

And keep in mind that even at “failing schools” some skilled and dedicated teachers are already uplifting one special kid at a time.

Meanwhile, you need not be a Marxist, or even a Democrat, to see that our community, state and nation face this defining school choice:

1) persist in the status quo of a growing education gap or

2) figure out how to help poor kids close that gap — even if we have to reach them closer to the cradle.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.