Researchers, policymakers, educators and parents are increasingly recognizing the value and benefits of early childhood care and education. Even the President of the Unites States has made this issue a priority.
Last December, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents and business and community leaders to talk about the importance of quality early childhood education. The summit highlighted the launch of Invest in US, a new initiative created by the First Five Years Fund to help communities expand early learning programs by connecting them with philanthropic and private resources. The National League of Cities (NLC) is a partner with Invest in US in furthering these efforts.
A growing body of research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. Economists have documented a return of $7 or more for each dollar invested in quality early education. This has been achieved partly through a reduced need for spending on services such as remedial and special education, and partly through increased productivity and earnings in adulthood. The long-term, societal returns on investment include a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, and fewer residents living in poverty.
Mayors and local officials have a unique ground-level perspective on the impact that a high-quality early education system can have on the lives of young people, families and residents. Local officials know that in order to improve educational, economic and social outcomes for young people, these systems must begin at birth and continue through preschool and into the early grades.
Cities in Action
City leaders can and increasingly do play a lead role in ensuring more children and families have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.
Cities such as Hartford, Conn., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Seattle (to name just a few) are making long-term investments in their young residents by allocating resources to early education programs. Hartford has even set a goal to have 100 percent of preschoolers in school by 2019.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also established the Mayor’s Cabinet for Young Children, which serves to consolidate all policymaking, planning, coordination and implementation on early childhood issues. This cabinet is composed of nine elected and appointed public sector leaders who advise the mayor on policy issues affecting young children and their families. The cabinet also works with the mayor to advance the city’s early childhood plan.
Several years ago, city leaders in San Antonio decided to make early childhood education a high priority. To explore options for creating a citywide Pre-K program, former Mayor Julián Castro created the “Brainpower Taskforce.” Made up of members of the business community, school superintendents and education professionals, the taskforce determined that a tax increase would be necessary in order for the city to be able to fund a high-quality Pre-K program.
In November 2012, San Antonio voters passed the Pre-K4 SA initiative, increasing the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund a full-day Pre-K program for 4-year-olds. The initiative has demonstrated progress so far – preliminary results indicate that achievement gaps for children in the program, compared to kindergarten students who did not participate, have been reduced by at least 25 percent in language, 33 percent in math and 90 percent in literacy.
Finally, as part of our Early Alignment for Young Children initiative, NLC is working with six cities to promote the healthy development and education of children from birth to age eight. The initiative focuses on three key elements of educational alignment: formal partnerships or governance structures, quality professional development opportunities for early education providers, and parent engagement and family supports. Contact us to learn more!
About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.