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Providing Early Childhood Education Makes Good Business Sense

In Nebraska an Early Childhood Business Rountable has been formed.  It has collated statistics and arguments for uplifting the economy through greater sharing of the costs of providing early childhood education between parents, the community, private employers and government.

Nebraska, July 2012 - Stepping up the education of children in their first five years of life just makes good business sense, a representative of state-wide business leaders told the Legislature's long-range planning committee on Friday.

The group, called Nebraska's Early Childhood Business Roundtable, presented information to the committee that shows:

* More than 50 percent of high school students lack the written, verbal, critical thinking and problem-solving skills employers need.

* Twenty percent of the workforce is functionally illiterate.

* The U.S. economy will add fewer educated workers in the next 20 years, compared to the last 20.

* Nearly 60,000 children in Nebraska 5 and younger -- about 39 percent -- are at risk of failing in school. About half of them live in rural areas.

In Lancaster County, based on the 2010 census regarding children in poverty, the number is 8,316, or 36 percent of kids. Other factors that put kids at risk include being born to teen parents, born with low birth rate or living in homes in which English is not the primary language.

Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff, chairman of the planning committee, said many children are coming out of the K-12 system not prepared for college. Part of the problem lies with children who enter kindergarten without proper skills to succeed.

It's hard to make up for those first five years, Harms said.

A report on Forging Nebraska's Future, presented to the committee by Richard Baier, executive vice president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, showed that 26 percent of Nebraska eighth-graders tested below basic achievement in math, and 30 percent of fourth-graders tested below basic achievement in reading in the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Jim Krieger, chairman of The First Five Years roundtable and chief financial officer of Gallup, said public spending on children is the lowest in early critical years. Return on investment is highest in the earliest years. That investment reduces special education costs, crime, the numbers of teen parents and welfare dependency. It increases school success, graduation rates, work readiness and job productivity, Krieger said.

In the current two-year budget cycle in Nebraska, $US9.75 million in general fund dollars went to early children programmes, compared to $US185 million for special education, $US74.7 million for mental health services and $US146 million for correctional services, according to the report.

More private dollars are being spent on early childhood education, such as $US100 million for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska and by private employers with on-site child development centres.

The cost of getting kids prepared, however, should be shared by the community, private employers and government. And parents should be No. 1, Krieger said.

"But our statistics are showing that No. 1 needs help," Krieger said.

The Legislature's Education Committee and other senators also are studying the issue of early childhood education.

The Education Committee's interim study is looking at publicly funded programmes in schools and others are studying the issue in childcare centres and social services. 

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