Business leaders join others in Nashville this week to remind lawmakers the availability of early childhood education is critical to the growth of the state’s economy. Photo credit: Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.
The importance of early childhood education is a top priority for child advocates this week as they work to encourage lawmakers to expand the availability of pre-kindergarten programs to Tennessee families during Children’s Advocacy Days in Nashville. While data supports the role early education plays in the lives of individual children, it comes down to dollars and cents for Bill Millett, the founder of Scope View Strategic Advantage, a firm that works with companies looking to find a qualified workforce. “There are some companies that go overseas because it’s cheaper over there, but there are some major Fortune 200 companies that we work with that just can’t find the talent here,” says Millett. “They’re patriots. They want us to up our game in terms of workforce development, and they believe that workforce development begins in the earliest months of life.” According to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, for every dollar spent on pre-kindergarten education, there are returns of anywhere between $4 and $16 to the state’s economy. The First Five Years Fund estimates children who receive early childhood education are 33 percent more likely to be employed and earn a higher average salary, and 70 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime before the age of 18. Tennessee currently provides free pre-kindergarten to families who live at 185 percent of the federal poverty rate, but doesn’t have the funding for all eligible children. Joyce Bridges, director of the Tennessee Child Care Resource and Referral Network, says there are many more children in need, and helping them would benefit everyone. “That individual with a good, solid, early foundation is then prepared to have success in elementary school, middle school, high school, and is more likely to be encouraged to go on to post-secondary school,” she says. Millett adds that in the global economy it’s important to remember what was adequate education in the last generation won’t make the grade as the U.S. works to compete with other world economies. “Their competition for quality lives and quality jobs is growing up on at least four other continents,” he says. “Those kids have access to information, and in many cases, better early childhood education than our kids have.” Multiple bodies of scientific research support the opinion the brains of children under five years of age are able to absorb information and develop in a manner not possible once the brain is fully developed.