Looking to Expand Early Education Programs? We’ve Got You Covered.

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NLC has teamed up with educational partners to produce a guide that features best practices for establishing high-quality childcare and pre-K programs – complete with examples from 19 cities across the country that are leading the way.

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Parents across the country are feeling the pinch as they struggle to find affordable, high-quality childcare and pre-Kindergarten programs that ensure their children are given the skills they need for future success. (Getty Images)

Working families don’t want their children left behind, as evidence shows the benefits of high quality early childhood education – and these families look to their local leaders to help find solutions.

With this in mind, the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) teamed-up with MomsRising and School Readiness Consulting to produce Strong Start for Strong Cities, an early learning resource guide for mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders. The guide features best practices for establishing local high quality childcare and pre-K programs, examples from 19 cities across the country that are leading the way, and personal stories from moms from all walks of life and across all 50 states and the District of Columbia about the need for these types of programs.

When done right, with strong support from city leaders, MomsRising Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner points out these types of programs can create a “win-win-win” situation – a win for children and their families, a win for cities, and a win for businesses.

Cities looking to devote scarce time and resources in support of affordable, high quality early education programs may reasonably ask, “How big of a ‘win’ is this really?” The answer? It’s big! A 2014 analysis by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (PCEA) found that every $1 spent on early learning initiatives brings returns of nearly $8.60, roughly half of which comes in increased earnings when children who participate in high-quality programs grow up and enter the job market.

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A win for children and their families.

Studies show that children who take part in high quality early learning experiences are more successful in high school and college, have better health outcomes, are less likely to be arrested, and are more likely to find gainful employment as adults. Additionally, the PCEA study estimates that children who are enrolled in preschool programs earn roughly $9,000 to $30,000 more than their peers who did not attend preschool.

With the high cost of childcare and preschool programs, working families are forced to make tough choices. Studies show that childcare often costs more than housing, food and transportation. In most states, full-time childcare costs more than tuition at public universities. And it’s not just cities’ poorest residents who find it difficult to afford programs that set their children on the path to success – it’s active duty military families, teachers, police officers, fire fighters and college-educated professionals.

Sometimes the difficult choices families must make include whether they are able to stay and make ends meet in their city. Amy, a mother of four young children from Virginia featured in Strong Start for Strong Cities, says the cost of preschool has forced her family to move in order to afford providing their young children the early learning opportunities they need. “My husband’s commute will be an hour and a half each way, five days a week, by public transportation (two buses and two metro trains) – but now we’ll afford preschool and rent. Arlington does not have affordable housing or preschool for young active duty military families,” Amy writes.

A win for cities.

Cities that invest in high quality, affordable early childhood programs help keep their families economically stable, meaning these residents rely less on local social safety net programs, have greater opportunities to buy a home, save for their retirement, and send their kids to college. These families will also have more disposable income to spend at restaurants, entertainment and cultural venues, and other local businesses. The children that benefit directly from these early learning programs will have a stronger earning potential and become future members of cities’ workforce and leadership.

Fort Worth, Texas, Mayor Betsy Price has led the way, saying it is “critical” that cities advance early learning opportunities for their residents. Mayor Price worked with the Fort Worth City Council to pass a resolution making early learning a legislative priority. Fort Worth is one of 19 cities featured in Strong Start for Strong Cities.

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do. As one of the fastest-growing large cities in the U.S. we are acutely aware of the demand for a well-educated workforce and know that economic development is uniquely tied to education. In Fort Worth, the movement to prioritize early education has grown from an idea to a collective movement involving business, non-profit, education and city leaders,” Mayor Price said.

A win for businesses.

A 2004 Cornell University study shows that American businesses lose more than $4 billion a year, when adjusted for today’s dollars, due to employees’ problems with childcare, and that productivity went up when workers had stable, high-quality care for their children.

Additionally, when looking for places to locate or expand their companies, businesses take into account the local environment. A city that has a strong education system, a well-educated workforce, and a high quality of life which includes affordable, high-quality childcare and preschool programs allows businesses to attract and retain well-qualified employees.

The Strong Start for Strong Cities guide makes clear that implementing sustainable, affordable, high-quality early learning programs requires the input of a variety of stakeholders including parents, educators, local businesses – and, most importantly, city leaders who can connect them all and provide a framework from within which they can work.

To connect with the YEF Institute to learn more about affordable, high quality early learning programs, contact Katie Whitehouse at whitehouse@nlc.org. To connect with parents who want to work with their local leaders, contact Nina Perez at StrongCities@MomsRising.org.

todd wilson headshotAbout the Author: Todd Allen Wilson is the Senior Staff Writer at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.