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Early Childhood Development Is Key to Economic Development

There's an iron-clad link between early childhood development and economic development.

In last week's State of the Union address, the President claimed that "the size of your paycheck shouldn't determine your child’s future," affirming the iron-clad link between early childhood development and economic development.

The economic future of every country rests with its greatest resource—the skills of its people. Today, we know that skills development starts at birth and lays the foundation for achievement in school, college, career and life. In fact, the first three years is the most critically important time to develop foundational thinking and character skills that motivate individuals to learn and function at very high levels. Early learning happens at home and in child care, so it is very important for parents to know how best to develop their child's skills and for their efforts to be supported by child care providers, pediatricians and other developmental resources.

In aiming to cultivate the parenting skills of new mothers and fathers, provide critical access to quality child care for infants and toddlers, and expand access to preschool to all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, the President’s plan may go down in history as an essential turning point in how we build a stronger America.

Every child needs quality early childhood development from birth to age five. Every dollar invested in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children produces a 7-10 percent return—per child, per year—in increased productivity and reduced social spending according to research conducted by Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman. Protecting and investing in programs such as Early Head Start and Head Start can also facilitate parents' employment, reduce special education costs and improve educational outcomes, while building a more productive workforce and stronger economy in the short- and long-term.

The President's proposal makes significant investments in early development through the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership and the expansion of evidence-based, voluntary home visiting. Providing quality care for disadvantaged children between birth and three, as well as helping to strengthen their family environments is the best way to build a sturdy foundation of cognitive and character skills that are essential for success in pre-school, school, career and life. Combining birth to three developmental programs with expanded access to pre-K is exactly what has been proven to work in early childhood programs.

His proposal also incentivizes innovation in early learning that is already happening in states, drawing from efforts in Georgia, Oklahoma and North Carolina that have shown a possible way forward for the President’s sweeping changes to early education.

Clearly, this ambitious plan will require policymakers from both sides of the aisle and all levels of government to work together. And already, early childhood has proven to be an issue that crosses directly through partisan divides. Republican and Democratic Governors recognize the value of early childhood programs for their state’s economic future and have proposed additional state investments in early learning to boot. In many states, the federal money and state money combined will mean existing programs are properly funded, helping states accomplish what they'd already set out to achieve, as well as helping states get new programs off the ground.

Best of all, the President's proposed program benefits all children, not just the disadvantaged. Building comprehensive supports for parents will raise the quality of early childhood resources in communities through the United States. The President has taken a bold step in ensuring that American children can succeed in school, become well-rounded, valuable adults and compete in the global economy, paying dividends for all for generations to come.

Boy drawing on a wall image via Shutterstock

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