Thanks to years of study, the benefits of early childhood education are well known. High-quality education is a key aspect of intervention for at-risk kids, and the earlier it is offered, the more beneficial it is.
On the other hand, at-risk children who do not have access to these services are:
- 25 percent more likely to drop out of school.
- 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent.
- 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education.
- 60 percent more likely to never attend college.
- 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.
That’s according to statistics gathered by Early Edge Montana, the state initiative to raise awareness and support for a pre-kindergarten program. A comprehensive look at the economics of early childhood education in Montana can be found in the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s 10-page report “Pre-Kindergarten: An Investment in Montana’s Future” (Fall 2013).
With solid research backing up the push for universal pre-kindergarten education in Montana, the initiative is being embraced by local, state and government officials, social welfare agencies, nonprofits, churches and charities and a host of others.
Unfortunately, the Montana business community had been noticeably missing from this growing discussion.
That changed last Wednesday with the Business Leader’s Summit on Early Childhood Education, which brought together education and business leaders from across the state to learn about early childhood development, public policies to make early education available to children in poverty, and the business community’s role in creating a more successful future for all Montanans.
The morning-long summit in Missoula was, in fact, a collaborative effort by the Governor’s Office and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, and included a brief panel presentation from Washington Companies President Larry Simkins on the economic impact of early childhood education. Simkins noted that Washington Companies has been around for 50 years, and that the skills and abilities demanded of today’s workforce are a far sight different from those needed five decades ago.
But it takes years to build a highly effective workforce, he added. Businesses that plan on being around for a long time are practiced at making investments now that will pay off far into the future – and that’s one of the reasons why their guidance in developing a statewide early education program is so critical.
Small-business owner, self-employed entrepreneurs, employers, managers – they understand what it means when every dollar invested in early education pays off with $7 in economic gains and savings, as Phyllis Washington explained. And the business community is in a position to look out for the families of their workers and customers – to make sure both are thriving.
When it comes to recruiting skilled workers and new businesses, it is not a point in Montana’s favor that we and only eight other states have no investments in pre-kindergarten programs.
Of course, when business leaders hear the word “investment” in this context, many will automatically assume that supporting early education means forking over some money. Not a day goes by when businesses large and small in Montana aren’t asked to contribute to some worthy cause.
However, the drive to make universal pre-kindergarten a reality in Montana by September 15, 2015, as Gov. Steve Bullock is advocating, requires an investment of something much more valuable than mere money – an active interest.
Business leaders and groups must start paying attention to early education as issue at least as important as tax policy or workforce development. They must be ready to learn about the successes and failures of pre-kindergarten programs in other states, as well as at a lot of smaller pilot projects, in order to ferret out which aspects of these programs would work in Montana. They must be sure to have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made – and many of those decisions will likely be made during the 2015 legislative session.
The business community has the long-term vision to understand how early investments pay off exponentially decades down the road. It’s time for Montana businesses to buy in to early education programs that will give Montana’s at-risk children the beginning they need to build a better future for everyone.
Support healthy child development
Participants at the Business Leaders’ Summit on Early Childhood Education in Missoula last week were provided with the following list of things businesses can do to support healthy child development:
- Sponsor parent education classes.
- Provide more information regarding child care and other family services.
- Offer flex time benefits for employees.
- Provide onsite child care.
- Support early care and education legislation.
- Provide flexible options for parents with sick children.
- Build consortiums of businesses to work together on early childhood issues.
- Support the expansion of preschools, Head Start and Early Head Start, and other quality services for children.
- Encourage and support employee volunteering in programs that serve young children.
- Provide part time employees with a regular work schedule.
- Allow employees to bring their babies to work.
- Accommodate breast-feeding mothers.
- Permit employees to work at home when possible/necessary.
- Become involved with existing programs.
- Create job sharing opportunities.
- Promote philanthropic investment in early childhood programs and services.
- Supply space to the community for meetings.
- Set up pre-tax spending accounts for employees that can be used for child care.
- Donate goods and services.
- Ask your employees and co-workers how you can support them and their families.