85% of detainees in juvenile detention facilities are functionally illiterate. This is not a coincidence. Children who show up to kindergarten with no prior exposure to books—an outcome far too frequent in our society—do not have the neurological infrastructure to learn. Given the crucial years of early brain development, they may never have the capacity to realize their true potential. Lack of quality early childhood education leads to a host of societal problems, including increasing the likelihood of committing any crime, committing a violent crime, using drugs, becoming a teen parent, relying on government assistance, while quality early childhood education substantially increases the chances for a host of societal goods, including graduating from high school, going to college, owning a home, and having a productive career. Lack of affordable, quality, early childhood education programs is a real problem in our society.
Investing in the neurological, social, and emotional development of our children is the smartest investment we can make. This program provides every child in the state with a total of 60 books over the first five years of their lives, sending one age appropriate book per month for $1.10/book through a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, who has negotiated rates with Penguin Press and the USPS, and who has an early childhood panel of experts who select the books. The program works best when the state provides 50% of the funding for the entire state, and a non-profit organization in each county raises a matching 50% of the funds for the eligible children in that county. For Arkansas, the total cost of the program would be roughly $3 million, with the state’s share being $1.5 million.