Kusimo talked about the damage toxic stress does to young children. Toxic stress is stress that is severe and sustained and is often the result of damaging problems such as homelessness, hunger, absentee parents, domestic violence and drug abuse.
Toxic stress can have actual physical impact on the brain development of young children, resulting in weakened language development and a lack of self-control.
Kusimo said that early childhood is crucially important. She said that children that live with high levels of toxic stress from birth to age 4 are already behind by the time they enter school. She also said that children who are behind grade level by the time they finish third grade tend not to catch up.
In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also stressed the importance of early childhood education.
"If a child cannot read at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade, bad things happen,'' Tomblin said. "They will remain poor readers in high school, and they will be more likely to become high school dropouts.''
This was the first meeting of the select committee. It is comprised of select Senate leadership from both parties, as well as the chairmen of the Finance, Judiciary, Education, Health and Agriculture Committees.
Senate Majority Leader John Unger, the select committee chairman, said that they will meet year round and travel to communities around the state to see the problem of poverty up close.
"Poverty is more than economic,'' Unger said. "If a child is hungry or a child is worried about what they're going to go home to, how can we expect that child to achieve?''