Learning lends support to state job goalsGov. Walker has set an ambitious, achievable goal for his four-year term, the creation of 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin. Quality early care and education — from birth to age 5 — is critical to those efforts in several meaningful ways.
By: By James L. Leonhart, Superior Telegram
Gov. Walker has set an ambitious, achievable goal for his four-year term, the creation of 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin. Quality early care and education — from birth to age 5 — is critical to those efforts in several meaningful ways.
A strong, well-supported statewide early care and education system ensures the parents who will fill newly-created jobs can find clean, safe and nurturing child care centers for their children. As previously unemployed parents seek child care as they return to work, they will have an important new resource available to them, the state’s five-star early education rating system.
Wisconsin’s YoungStar program was launched recently by the state 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 web site enables parents to search for YoungStar-rated providers in their area and other providers that have received top ratings because of their national accreditation.
In addition to filling the immediate needs of parents going back to work, early childhood education can be expected to 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 could allow the redirection of state funds to support job creation and other economic development 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 50 to 85 cents because of reduced crime costs and 36 to 77 cents in lower instructional costs.
Quality early education also has been found to reduce serious behavioral problems, including juvenile violence in school. The highest percentage of the study’s anticipated savings result from better behaved, prepared and engaged students, and more satisfied teachers. The same study found 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, as well. Students who participate in early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school, pursue post-secondary education and add to 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 4-year-old kindergarten. Every child in the state 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 they may 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 five. These scores signal how imperative it is to 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 the governor to ensure we are doing our part in his job creation and economic development efforts.
James L. Leonhart is executive vice president of the Madison-based Celebrate Children Foundation.