And How are the Children..?

Early Childhood, Economic Stimulus and the Story We Keep Forgetting to Tell…

Posted on: February 5, 2010

This is what makes me sooooooo frustrated…

Early childhood programs are generally assumed to be more or less worthless in the court of popular opinion.  Some people think they are great IF you can afford it.  Some people actually think they are bad (free babysitting for lazy people, parents should teach children at home, the “Nanny State” trying to hijack the minds of their children, etc..).  When budgets are to be cut, and sacrifices to be made, no fiscal surgeon falters before cutting what appears to be a easy-to-reach chunk of fat blocking the strained arteries of any given budget.  When compared to other line items, early education and child care funding just aren’t as critical, right?  Quality programs are costly.  They’re not saving us any money, are they?

Actually… WRONG.  They are.  They do.  In the long and short term.  We can prove it!

The problem is that we, the practitioners in the field of early childhood, need to stop resting on the laurels of what feels certain to be the moral high ground.  We need to get some PR on our side, and fast.  We’ve got research on our side, we’ve got a potentially very mediagenic cause… we need to sell it.  It doesn’t matter that providing access to Pre-Kindergarten education improves community outcomes and stimulates the economy if no one knows about it.  Or rather, no one in a position to make any useful policy changes knows about it.

Speaking of research – Take a look at this important info from the Pew Center on the States:

Press Release: Cutting Early Childhood Programs Worsens Fiscal Problems

Research Brief: The Costs of Disinvestment

From the PEW press release:

“The brief also provides evidence that early childhood programs act as an economic stimulus.  Because child care and pre-k professionals tend to spend much of their earnings locally, their jobs cause wage dollars to move multiple times through their communities.  Facilities maintenance and supplies for early childhood programs are heavily local, spurring spending when and where it is most needed.  Also, parents whose children are in reliable, quality care are able to work more productively and rely less on public assistance, while parents out of work can better search for jobs and participate in training programs.  Such public investments can help attract new business by signaling the state’s commitment to workforce development.”

We, the ECE practitioners of America have a problem of passion over politics.  We work hard for this cause, and feel so deeply about it, we forget that no one else really cares. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.  Or rather, very few people in positions of financial, legislative or political power know about the proven benefits of quality early care and education systems.  And they’re usually so effectively prejudiced and misinformed about our work, that when it is explained, they dismiss it.

If you are a person who would like to see more funding and policy decisions made in favor of early care and education in this country, you would do well to shift the focus toward how your work is good for society, and good for the economy in particular.  Because if people are going to invest time and energy, it won’t be because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s going to be because they expect some return on their investment that affects their daily lives, usually in the form of comfort or money.

Sell it.  Let’s involve some marketing and PR professionals, ’cause non-profit people rarely know how to do this:  Let’s explain to cash-strapped America how it could use an Early Care and Education Stimulus.  Let’s show our under-performing industry how the human infrastructure of early care and education holds up the workforce like a bridge; Just consider the chain-reaction of absences and lateness caused when a single child care provider doesn’t show up to work.  Make people understand that there’s more to it than unfamiliar groups and unknown children; everyone is touched in some way.  Everyone is affected.  You are affected.  That’s the idea we have to sell.

My goal this week is to try to talk to someone outside of the early childhood field about the importance of what we do, in a way that makes them want to write to their legislators and demand that ECE programs and funding be maintained and increased.  You should try it, too.  Read the PEW Brief (it really is brief, a quick read), and talk to someone about it.  Good luck to us all.  We can do it!


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