Lyriq Brooks, 4, left, and Ceyanee Brown, center, 4, work with their Pre-K teacher Shannon Hurley, right, in the Pre-K classroom at the Columbia North YMCA, gluing paper cutouts to make an octopus on October 20, 2016.
The future of Philadelphia, our state, and this nation rests with our children. In a few years, young children will be adults. Will they be responsible citizens, capable of holding good jobs and contributing to their communities?
The answer depends on the decisions we make today. Proven investments, guided by evidence-based practices, assure the vitality of children for years to come. Early learning is one of the most effective investments possible, and we thank Gov. Wolf and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for a bipartisan effort awarding early learning programs an additional $66.5 million in the 2018-19 budget.
These allocations, a 6.7 percent increase overall, represent a belief that the potential of every Pennsylvania child can be cultivated to strengthen communities and our economy. Pennsylvania now invests $1 billion in early learning, leveraging another $800 million in federal funds.
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This may sound considerable, but it is less than half of the Commonwealth’s spending on state prisons and criminal justice. The need is imperative. Solid research links investments in high-quality early learning to immediate and long-term benefits.
The neural connections built in the early years support mental, social, and emotional functioning for life. Investments in high-quality early learning pay off when children enter school ready to learn and equipped with the academic basics, including literacy competencies that promote comprehension and communication.
Children are likelier to graduate from high school, pursue higher education and career training, and be more productive workers. Those who didn’t receive quality early learning are likely to struggle with each passing year, until they drop out and face instability ahead.
Due to these budget increases, children will move off child care and pre-k waiting lists, receiving early care and education they would have missed otherwise. Parents in areas hardest hit by the opioid epidemic will receive home visiting services, strengthening their capacities to care for their children. More young children will access early intervention, helping them overcome developmental and learning delays.
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The increase in Child Care Works funding has an especially important economic impact today and tomorrow.
For today, high-quality child care improves workforce productivity by enabling parents to work and/or pursue the training needed for family-sustaining jobs. According to new studies, a lack of reliable, affordable child care leads to missed workdays and high turnover, costing employers billions of dollars and states millions in lost tax revenues.
For tomorrow, high-quality child care builds a more capable workforce by assuring the school readiness that prepares children for lifetime success. The labor pool deepens with qualified workers ready to energize workplaces and propel the economy forward. Businesses keep pace with the global marketplace, while communities and our state reap the contributions of engaged, taxpaying citizens and workers.
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The Early Learning Investment Commission, of which we are members, believes that a business-like approach of making strategic long-term investments in our kids will pay dividends to all of us in the coming years.
We applaud the state Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL). Under the leadership of Philadelphia’s Suzann Morris, deputy secretary of the office, OCDEL provides lawmakers the confidence to make substantive investments.
These gains prove the viability of quality early learning as an investment strategy sure to elevate school achievement, improve family self-sufficiency, and bolster our economy now and long into the future. Most importantly, it promises children the opportunity to cultivate their talents, for lives of productivity and promise.
Jack Brennan is Chairman Emeritus & Senior Advisor of The Vanguard Group, Inc. Janet Haas, Chair of the William Penn Foundation and Jerry Maginnis, retired Managing Partner of KPMG’s Philadelphia Office, also contributed. All are members of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission