“It’s not a budget issue, it’s not a funding issue, it’s a priority issue.”
Research shows the huge potential of early learning programs, if only Congress could see the light, according to expert testimony at a recent hearing. Voices interns Sarah Rogers and Nicole Bibel share the findings below.
The evidence is clear that early learning programs not only benefits children, but society as a whole. So why aren’t politicans and the media talking about it more? During the 2008 election season, the topic of education was never mentioned by the moderators of the presidential debates, and our recent report on the 2012 primary debates shows education is again getting ignored.
A recent hearing hosted by the National Journal and the First Five Years Fund discussed early education, why it’s important, and why we tend to ignore it. The panel of speakers consisted of experts in early childhood initiatives and research, as well as Former Governor and U.S. Representative of Delaware, Michael Castle, and Jon Schnur, former senior advisor to Arne Duncan. Shiek Pal, Director of Policy and Government Relations for the First Five Years Fund, gave the welcome speech, addressing both the opportunities and challenges that we face with early learning. He stressed that we need to close the gap between what we know about early childhood education and what we do about it.
Everyone agreed that while there’s bipartisan support for early education, finding funding is still a challenge. One issue is that politicians often focus on achieving their short term goals, and early education has long term effects that are not always apparent right away. Another problem is that though many politicians care about education, the topic rarely comes up as a platform issue. During the 2008 election season, the topic of education was never mentioned by the moderators of the presidential debates.
Another factor that panelists mentioned was that the media has done a very poor job of showing the importance of education, and this may contribute to why the public doesn’t understand the need to increase the quality of early education. Education ties into the job market more than it ever has before, and according to Jon Schnur, nearly two of every three jobs require some postsecondary education. There is nearly a 90 percent wage gap between those with postsecondary education and those without it. In our arguments for improving early childhood education we need to tie economics to education because the impact of education will have an unprecedented impact on the jobs and the economy. Castle stated clearly, “if you put money into education you’re going to save a lot of money down the road.”
Research from four longitudinal studies, including the Perry Preschool Project, shows that early learning programs are very cost effective. According to Dr. Arthur Rolnick, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota, the rate of returns on the investment is in the double digits. Barry Downing, President of Northrock, Inc., has found that within programs that he’s worked with, low-income children that enter early learning programs testing at 30 percent proficiency for their age leave the program in the 80th percentile. Even with this information there are not enough children enrolled in pre-k programs. This is mainly due to the fact that 80% of early care and education is provided by the private sector, according to Nina Rees, CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This in turn prevents low income families from accessing the programs.
Early childhood education is integral to success in K-12 education; without this preparation, children enter kindergarten extremely unprepared. Pre-k programs improve all aspects of child development, from literacy skills to social and emotional skills. However, as was stressed by many of the speakers, quality of the programs is as important as access to the programs themselves. High-performing programs need to be rewarded and used as examples for other programs that have not had as much success. We need to ensure that all children are able to enter kindergarten with the cognitive and social skills they need to succeed throughout their education
As Rolnick emphasized, “It’s not a budget issue, it’s not a funding issue, it’s a priority issue.” We must make early childhood education a priority.