Republicans, Democrats agree: Early Childhood Education Plays a Crucial Role in Ensuring Nation’s Long Term Economic Health

WASHINGTON DC, July 31 – Experts from both sides of the aisle gathered today to discuss the role early childhood education plays in the economy—and in the election. Hosted by the First Five Years Fund and moderated by National Journal correspondent Fawn Johnson, the summit explored the heightened importance of national investments in early education, an issue little discussed on presidential and congressional campaign trails despite its impact on the nation’s long-term economic prosperity.

“This is not a budget problem, this is a priority problem,” said University of Minnesota economist Art Rolnick. “Research is overwhelming and studies show the returns are extraordinary. The earlier we start the more cost effective investments are.”

Panelists from different points on the ideological spectrum agreed that investing in high-quality early learning is a fiscally responsible way to reduce deficits and create economic growth in the short- and long-term.

“Early education is a very significant issue that should be front and center in the campaigns because it ties into the jobs issue now more than ever, but the connection has not quite been made yet,” said Republican former Delaware governor and representative Mike Castle.

“Blending high-quality early learning and high-quality K-12 will have a transformative effect on our economy,” said education reform expert and Obama campaign surrogate Jon Schnur.

The discussion also examined the current early childhood education policies at work in the states and offer a range of policy solutions to guarantee American children have the tools they need to succeed in a global economy. Focusing on system improvements that bolster quality and involve parents were two important themes.

“We heard loud and clear today that it is because of the deficit—not in spite of it—that investing in early learning programs for children is critical,” said K. Shiek Pal, Director of Policy and Government Relations for the First Five Years Fund. “High-quality early learning is one of the smartest public investments available, and will directly shape the next generation of our workers.”

Nina Rees, Chief Executive Officer, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, summed it up this way: “We need to change the conversation such that school readiness is as important as college readiness.”