Early learning supports jobs goal of Gov. Walker

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James L. Leonhart
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker has set an ambitious, achievable goal: creation of 250,000 jobs. Quality early care and education—from birth to age 5—is critical to those efforts.

A strong statewide early-care and education system ensures that the parents filling newly created jobs can find safe, nurturing child care centers. As parents seek child care while returning to work, they will have an important new resource: the state’s five-star early education rating system.

The state recently launched Wisconsin’s YoungStar program in partnership with the Celebrate Children Foundation, Supporting Families Together Association and the Wisconsin Early Childhood Education Association. It is an important first step toward ensuring the quality and fiscal responsibility of Wisconsin’s early care and education centers. A visit to the program’s website at dcf.wisconsin.gov/youngstar enables parents to find YoungStar and other rated providers in their areas.

In addition to helping parents going back to work, early childhood education can help lower expenses in grades kindergarten through 12, a short payback period on an investment in early education made no more than five years before. These cost savings free state funds to support job-creation efforts.

For example, a study conducted for the Committee for Economic Development demonstrated that for every dollar spent on early education, a state can expect to recoup between 50 and 85 cents because of reduced crime costs and between 36 and 77 cents in lower instructional costs.

Quality early education also has been found to reduce serious behavioral problems, including juvenile violence. The highest percentage of the study’s anticipated savings result from better behaved, prepared and engaged students, and more satisfied teachers. The total fiscal benefit for every dollar invested in early childhood education is between $1.18 and $2.25.

Quality early education has less immediate, but no less important, economic development effects. Students in early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school, pursue post-secondary education and join the pool of prospective employees who will continue to spur Wisconsin’s growth.

Four-year-old kindergarten is an important part of any quality early learning system. There are many well-founded, research-based reasons why nearly 90 percent of the state’s school districts offer it. Every child in Wisconsin deserves the opportunity to succeed. We should never choose to make it more difficult for our young people to compete for jobs in the global economy.

But scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment show the challenges our kids might have competing. Out of 34 countries, the United States ranks 14th in reading achievement, 17th in science and 25th in math. Eighty-five percent of a child’s intellect, social skills and personality are developed by age 5. It is imperative that we start early, while the young brain is experiencing its most dramatic growth.

Gov. Walker has rightly put a priority on rebuilding the state’s economy and creating jobs. Those in the state’s early education system look forward to working with him to ensure we are doing our part.

James L. Leonhart is executive vice president of the Madison-based Celebrate Children Foundation. The nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization helps create the most effective early learning systems for children from birth to age 5 in Wisconsin. Readers can contact him at james.leonhart@celebrate-children.org.

Last updated: 4:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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