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Pre-K Advocates of a Certain Age

The secret to pre-k advocates' success in many states has been their ability to build diverse coalitions that include unexpected allies, such as business, community groups, and politicians from both sides of the aisle. But we often don’t think of senior citizens as potential allies for pre-k because we tend to think of seniors’ and children’s programs as competing for scarce public resources. That’s a mistake. A new report from Generations United, a non-profit group that supports intergenerational programs and policies, explains why.

Older adults can support early education programs in a variety of roles. One of the most obvious is as volunteers. The coming retirement of the baby-boom generation (all 79 million of them) means that more adults will be available to volunteer. In surveys, seniors say that their number one preferred volunteer activity is working with kids, even when their own grandchildren live in a different city or state. This is a potential pool of time, talent, and dedication that should not go unnoticed by local and state pre-k advocates. Research shows that seniors benefit too, as volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health.

Seniors are also an increasingly important voting bloc. 79 percent of adults over 65 voted in the 2004 election, compared to 58 percent of adults aged 18-24. Senior voting in several communities has been crucial in approving property tax levies and bond issues that support early education

Generations United founded Seniors4Kids to tap the skills, connections, and time of older adults to support pre-k investments. Their work to support pre-k programs Florida is a good example of how this works. Seniors4Kids enlisted active adults over age 50 to coordinate pre-k efforts in their communities, recruit like-minded seniors to join them, petition their legislators to support the state’s universal pre-k program, and host educational events. Retired elected officials affiliated with Seniors4Kids wrote op-eds in major state newspapers about the importance of degreed teachers for pre-k, an initiative that gained the support of governor Bill Crist in April 2007. Generations United is now bringing this civic engagement model to New York and Kentucky

Senior citizens are too important a constituency for early education advocates to write off. Through both their existing networks and new ones, like Seniors4Kids, older adults can play an important in raising awareness about early education issues and gathering support for specific initiatives. The more hands that contribute to support early education initiatives, the more we all benefit.