The Business Imperative for Improving Early Childhood Education

March 15, 2011
by Rebecca Van Maren

It’s not every day that you hear an economist, a banker, and a businessman talk about the importance of early childhood education. However, on Friday, March 10, the First Five Years Fund had a briefing on “The Business Imperative for Improving Early Childhood Education.”  The panel was comprised of Rob Grunewald, associate economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; Al Stroucken, chairman and chief executive officer, Owens-Illinois, Inc; and Lloyd Lamm, regional banking executive, First National Bank.  

There are so many economic and business reasons why we need quality early childhood education such as Head Start and Early Head Start. These programs are economic investments that are needed for our workforce to be competitive. Programs like Head Start prove to have returns on investments for both the children and families participating in the programs as well as for the greater public. These returns can be things such as enabling parents to go to work and school and decreases in special education needs in K-12 education. But they also have more long-term returns such as decreased costs on the justice system, and higher tax revenue from higher paying employment.

A panelist, Rob Grunewald, highlighted that all ratios, from various studies have a return higher than one, which means the public is getting their money back from the investment. When asked who benefits, certainly the children and their family, but 60-65 percent accrues to the public, to the non participants, to the tax payer. This means that you don’t even have to like children to achieve a high return on this investment.

The panelist, Al Stroucken, also called for the need to remember that children are our workforce of tomorrow. The children not only need to be able to read and write, but how to interact with other people, deal with adversity, and understand that learning doesn’t stop when they leave school but it just starts. By the time they are 5 years old, they have already gained the basis of learning how to think critically, and solve problems, key skills that employers are looking for with their staff.

“It’s not enough to get kids to kindergarten, but that they arrive ready to learn” said Lloyd Lamm, the third panelist. “Early learning is so important for closing the achievement gap.” Tremendous growth is happening in the brain during the first few years of life. “Our state and national commitment to at risk children is an economic imperative as we look forward to building a world class workforce which in turn leads towards a healthy community and a healthy family.”

For more information, check out the work RESULTS is doing on early child development.

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