Why business should invest in early education?

October 24th, 2014

News Coverage:
Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Why business should invest in early education?

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2014 11:00 pm

Sixteen northeast Indiana business leaders recently submitted a letter to members of the Indiana General Assembly to encourage increased investment in high quality early learning.

Why should business leaders care about what happens to children from birth to age five?

Having worked in human resources management for two of our region’s largest employers and now as CEO of Early Childhood Alliance, I understand both the short-term and the long-term pay-offs for employers. Three immediate reasons to support increased investment in high quality early learning are to:

• Attract talent: Two of every three families with young children need child care because all parents in the home are working. The availability of affordable, high quality child care helps employers attract and retain a valuable workforce.

• Increase productivity: The availability of high quality child care and early learning is associated with working parents’ reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover and increased productivity.

• Grow the workforce: High quality child care and early learning allows greater workforce participation by parents and greater ability for them to pursue advanced education. That helps Northeast Indiana achieve its Big Goal Collaborative objectives (Vision 2020) of increasing the percentage of adults in our workforce with post-secondary degrees and/or valuable credentials from the current 37 percent to 60 percent.

The long-term reason for business investment is even more compelling: the architecture of the brain and the foundations of lifelong learning, behavior and health are formed during the first five years of a child’s life. As those 16 local leaders told the General Assembly, we are currently investing the least where the potential for return is the greatest in our educational system.

Consider this – in the 2013-14 school year, Indiana spent $17 million in taxpayer dollars to remediate 3,200 children held back – in kindergarten. This year we are spending even more – nearly $22 million on 4,500 children repeating kindergarten because children are entering kindergarten unprepared. Research shows such children are less likely to be reading at grade level at third grade, and three-fourths of those children will never catch up. It is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is a waste of human capital and hinders economic growth.

Who can employers contact for help?

Child Care Resource and Referral agencies can provide assistance to employers by:

• Providing child care resource and referral assistance to employees

• Consulting with employers to identify work/family needs

• Developing programs that meet the needs of employers and their employees

• Hosting workplace parenting workshops (Lunch & Learn)

Early Childhood Alliance serves the Big Goal counties of Allen, DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and Whitley. Go to www.ecalliance.org for more information.

Bona Vista is the Child Care Resource and Referral agency for the Big Goal counties of Adams, Huntington, Wabash, and Wells. Go to www.bonavista.org.

We need to change the game. We know how. We just have to scale what works. We have great examples of high quality child care and early learning programs that prepare children for success in school and life. We just don’t have enough of them to meet the need – and the need is great. One of four children in Northeast Indiana is living in poverty. They are the ones most at risk of not being prepared for kindergarten. High quality learning experiences must be available for all children, but especially those most in need. A survey by our Big Goal Collaborative Kindergarten Readiness action team indicates one of four children in our region enters kindergarten in need of intensive help to succeed. Remediation costs money – just like rework in a factory.

The collective impact approach we use in the Big Goal Collaborative relies on identifying what works in our region and growing it through continuous improvement and use of data to inform our work. One of our biggest assets is the Paths to Quality quality rating and improvement system adopted by Indiana and admired by other states. It was created here in Fort Wayne and administered by Early Childhood Alliance to help consumer parents choose the high quality child care and early learning experiences that best meet their needs. It also helps providers improve the quality of their services over time as they move from Level 1 to Level 4, the highest level in achieving national accreditation.

Here are two simple ways employers can use this asset to help alleviate child care challenges for their employees:

1. Share information about Paths to Quality, especially with employees who are expecting a baby or have children ages 0-13.

2. Put the “Free Child Care Search” button on their intranet or internet sites.

3. Subsidize child care at a Paths to Quality program as an employee benefit, especially infant care, which is typically more expensive and hard to find.

Employers can also adopt family-friendly policies and practices that support effective parenting. Having regular work days and hours, for example, helps parents plan child care. When that is not possible, providing several days advance notice of work schedules helps parents arrange for child care.

Business leaders can join with the Big Goal Collaborative, Chambers of Commerce, United Way organizations, foundations and other entities who are working to support and expand capacity of high quality, affordable, and accessible early learning opportunities. Business leaders can become advocates and champions for change and mold their philanthropic efforts to include investments in early learning. We all stand to benefit from this important work.

Madeleine Baker is the executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance. She is an active member of the Big Goal Collaborative.

This column is part of a series of stories and columns explaining the Big Goal Collaborative.