America's Long Overdue Investment: Early Childhood Care & Education!
Many believe that intentional, sustained investments in early childhood care & education can be the solution to the country’s education opportunity gap. Moreover, the brain development research* and other studies have documented the critical value of investing in the early years. Why then does the US hesitate to invest adequately in order to meet the educational, social and emotional needs of its youngest children?
Researchers, advocates, educators, caregivers, and policy makers have worked decades to ensure that early childhood care & education related research exists. Just Google it! Hours have been spent providing orientation for policy makers and business leaders on the value of providing quality early childhood care & education for all children regardless of income, race, and/or language spoken. Countless advocacy efforts have been undertaken galvanizing legislators, teachers, families, business groups, unions and others interested in the future of this nation. Many evidenced based programs have been launched to demonstrate the effectiveness of early childhood care & education. Yet, after decades of advocacy, program development, demonstration projects, policy legislative initiatives, workforce development and even a few virtual worker strikes, the country still resists.
Other countries not only believe but have acted on the research passing laws that enrich the early years. According to Education Today 2010: The OECD Perspective © OECD 2010: In the majority of countries – but not all – education now begins for most well before 5 years old: Already over two-thirds of the age group of young children aged 3 and 4 years (71.5%) are enrolled in education across OECD countries as a whole, and this rises to nearly 80% (79.8%) in the OECD countries that are part of the European Union. Enrollment rates for early childhood education at this age range from over 90% in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, at one end of the spectrum, to less than a third in Australia, Greece, Korea, Switzerland and Turkey. (Education at a Glance 2010: OECD Indicators, 2010, Indicator C1)
What will it take for the US to join these countries? When will the US step up not only to verbally acknowledge that the early years set the foundation for success in life but more importantly to pass laws making it a funding priority? Further, when will the US President and Congress identify early childhood care & education as an intentional investment needed for All of America’s youngest children? It is widely known and documented that focusing on the early years pays huge dividends as a child develops into adulthood; just listen to speeches made by at least the last four US Presidents and most Governors.
Across the nation, we have heard local, state and federal legislators publicly acknowledge the value and need for early childhood care & education investments. Children have shown that they absolutely CANNOT wait, many fall through the cracks as the opportunity gap widens, particularly in urban centers across the country. Business leaders argue about the need for a well-prepared, ready workforce. Families struggle to patchwork early care and education for their youngest children. Early childhood teachers struggle to make ends meet due to inadequate compensation, many having to seek out food pantries to feed their own families. Yet, the US continues to make limited progress towards investing in this significant priority families with young children want and need.
Could the delay to invest be: Lack of political will? Or, perhaps neglect to fund necessary policies/practices? Or, that congress simply chooses not to invest in children? After all children can’t vote nor contribute to political campaigns. The resources certainly exist! What do you think?
*Institute of Medicine. 2000. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/9824.