This week, as they did last week in Cleveland, hundreds of interest groups and lobbyists will be in Philadelphia for the presidential convention. However, one critical group is not present – our children.
Our children’s future is our future, and therefore a crucial element to consider when solving the challenges facing our nation. Studies show the human brain develops most rapidly between birth and age 5, yet almost all public investments in children happen after the age of 5. We cannot let our nation’s leaders forget this as they forge our future at the conventions.
Our organizations – Save the Children, Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) and Johnson & Johnson – have joined forces to act as a catalyst to try to drive a policy consensus among influential Republicans and Democrats in Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively.
The centerpiece of our involvement is an interactive installation, featuring a virtual reality video of Save the Children’s work in the U.S. and overseas and an interactive app, geared toward educating convention attendees on the importance of investing in kids at home and around the world. We have hosted a series of events in Cleveland with prominent champions of kids and will do again in Philadelphia, including sponsoring a policy forum on early education in both cities.
The power of increased access to early childhood education to bridge the political divide is clear. According to a poll released by SCAN last year, an overwhelming majority of voters in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin believe investing in high-quality early childhood education is critical to the future of America. In fact, 87 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats said the years zero to 5 are extremely or very important to the learning and development of a child.
Going a step further, 63 percent of respondents answered that public education should start with preschool and be offered to all 4-year-olds. And 59 percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to support a presidential candidate who came out in favor of increased early childhood education spending.
When we talk about ensuring equal opportunity for all kids and investing in our shared future, liberals, moderates and conservatives agree we cannot wait any longer to accomplish meaningful change. We believe there are two bipartisan initiatives that should be injected into the debate at the conventions and serve to unite our nation behind our leaders from both sides of the aisle.
First, we must increase access to high-quality early childhood education in the United States. High-quality early learning programs are the best investment our country can make. A study from Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman shows that for every dollar invested in early education, there is a return of at least $7. Parents have the ultimate responsibility to raise their children, but high quality early learning programs can assist families so all children have an equal opportunity to succeed in school and in life.
Second, bipartisan support for children’s issues also extends beyond America’s borders. Republicans and Democrats understand that when we engage and lift up some of the most vulnerable populations abroad, we are not only acting morally but we are solidifying America’s reputation as a beacon of hope and creating allies in an increasingly dangerous world.
Programs that make the difference between life and death in the developing world are unequivocally successful. Since 1990, America has led the world and helped cut the preventable deaths of children and their mothers in half. But more work remains to be done. Each year, around the world, 5.9 million children age 5 and under die of highly preventable causes like malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea.
The Reach Every Mother and Child Act is a bipartisan bill that would commit the United States to achieving the attainable goal of eradicating preventable deaths within a generation. Reach Act co-sponsors now number nearly 200 in the House and Senate, and span the ideological and geographical spectrums, from progressive Sen. Patty Murray in Washington state to conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions in Alabama. All that’s needed now is the political will to pass this legislation into law.
In America and in developing nations across the world, time is running out for this generation, and we must act soon to impact the next. Swift bipartisan action will unite our nation behind our political leaders and showcase the power of an aligned Washington in a time of fractured partisanship and deep skepticism.
Amid all the speeches and policy platforms that will shape the future of the United States this election season, let us not forget our children. They will one day lead this nation. Clear policies for improving access to early education both at home and abroad are foundational investments in advancing our global society. Together, Republicans and Democrats can make a difference.
Mark Shriver serves as president of Save the Children Action Network. Joaquin Duato serves as Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson.