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Pastors Call for More Early Learning Programs in Ohio

When it comes to calls to increase access to quality preschool programs, we most often hear from education advocates and law enforcement officials who point out the long-term benefits to society of making sure children are ready for school.

Now we're hearing from a different set of voices in Ohio—a national nonprofit group of more than 200 evangelical pastors and ministry leaders who say that providing high-quality preschool programs can help strengthen families.

On Monday, a pastor representing more than 70 other Ohio colleagues who are members of Shepherding the Next Generation, joined a state lawmaker in announcing support for high-quality preschool programs. "We support pre-k because it encourages parents to be active in their child's education and daily life," said Pastor Rick Rufenacht of the First Church of God in Defiance, Ohio, according to a news release from Shepherding the Next Generation.

Rufenacht released a report from the nonprofit group that "shows that quality early learning can help reduce births outside of marriage and increase the likelihood that young men and women will marry and play significant roles in raising their children."

"As Christian leaders, we are doing what we can to teach the religious values that will build strong families and to offer a helping hand to those in our pews and our communities. But many parents need additional help. Research shows that early education can play a critical role in helping disadvantaged parents raise children who grow up to complete high school and higher education, get married and hold jobs," the report said.

Noting that parents "play the most important role" in preparing their children for school and life, the report said Ohio could also make "a tremendous difference" in the lives of families by expanding access to high-quality preschools to more at-risk kids.

In 2010-2011, Ohio provided state-funded preschool for about 5,700 low-income 4-year-olds, or about 2 percent of all 4-year-olds. Locally-funded programs served another 2 percent of all 4-year-olds and and another 13 percent were served by federally-funded Head Start, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

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