Boosting funding early childhood education Pa. is a no-brainer | Opinion

Lyriq Brooks, 4, left, and Ceyanee Brown, center, 4, work with their Pre-K teacher Shannon Hurley, right, in the Pre-K classroom at the Columbia North YMCA, gluing paper cutouts to make an octopus on October 20, 2016.

The future of the Philadelphia area, our state, and this nation rests with our children. The extent to which today’s young children grow into thriving adults who are well prepared to raise their families and build their futures here depends on the decisions we make today.

Research confirms what common sense suggests, investing in our kids early pays off.  In fact, research links investments in high-quality early learning to benefits that are both immediate and long-term, generating returns as high as $5 to $11 for every $1 invested.  It is encouraging then that Gov. Wolf and the Legislature recently adopted a budget that commits an additional $66.5 million in early learning programs.  As business leaders, we commend them for this savvy investment.

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These allocations, a 6.7 percent increase overall, demonstrate a belief that the potential of every Pennsylvania child can be cultivated to strengthen individuals, communities and our economy. Pennsylvania now invests $1 billion in early learning, leveraging another $800 million in federal funds.

This may sound like a considerable sum, but it is less than half of the Commonwealth’s spending on state prisons and criminal justice and likely does more to reduce such  costs in the future than just about any investment we could make.  Here’s why.

Research supports that the ever-changing brains of young children demand stimulation, enrichment, and interaction with caring adults. The neural connections built in the early years support mental, social, and emotional functioning for life. Investments in high-quality early learning pay off when children enter school ready to succeed, equipped with the academic basics and social and emotional skills necessary to function in a classroom setting.  Prepared by this foundation, children are likelier to stay on track academically, graduate from high school, pursue higher education and career training, and be more productive workers.

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The early learning payoff isn’t just long-term, however.  New studies suggest access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a significant factor for today’s workforce.   Lack of reliable, affordable childcare leads to missed workdays and high turnover, costing employers billions of dollars and states millions in lost tax revenues.  Pennsylvania’s early learning investments make high quality care and education more affordable for tens of thousands of families.

Due to these budget increases, children will move off waiting lists, receiving early care and education they would have missed otherwise and their parents will be able to work and/or pursue job training needed for family-sustaining jobs.  Parents in areas hardest hit by the opioid epidemic now will be able to receive Home Visiting services, strengthening their capacities to care for their children.

The Early Learning Investment Commission, of which we are members, believes that a businesslike approach of making strategic long-term investments in our kids will pay dividends to all of us in the coming years.  We applaud the state Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) that, under the leadership of Philadelphia’s Suzann Morris, assures that our dollars are spent wisely.

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These budget gains prove the viability of quality early learning as an investment strategy sure to elevate school achievement, improve family self-sufficiency, and bolster our economy now and long into the future. Most importantly, it promises children the opportunity to cultivate their inborn talents, for lives of productivity and promise.

Jack Brennan is Chairman Emeritus & Senior Advisor of The Vanguard Group, Inc. Janet Haas, MD Chair of the William Penn Foundation and Jerry Maginnis, retired Managing Partner of KPMG’s Philadelphia Office, contributed. All are members of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission.