Investing in early childhood education

Too often, we focus on the issues that divide us. It’s easy to be inundated with partisan rhetoric — especially during the midst of a political campaign. Instead, we should concentrate on something that unites us: investing in high-quality early childhood care and education.

Two recent polls demonstrate broad, bipartisan support in favor of investments in early childhood education.

Actually, that may be an understatement. Attitudes about the importance of early childhood education reach near unanimity, according to the polls. There is little partisan divide in this data as 90 percent of participants in a recent poll in Colorado said the years zero to 5 are extremely or very important to the learning and development of a child.

Furthermore, in a recent poll of Colorado residents by Save the Children Action Network, 61 percent of respondents answered that public education should start with preschool and be offered to all 4-year-olds. That represents a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Those findings are confirmed by another bipartisan poll released this fall by the First Five Years Fund, which shows strong support for early learning among majorities of critical swing voter groups, all of whom say they would be impressed with a candidate who calls for investments in early education — including 69 percent of Hispanics, 62 percent of millennials and 57 percent of moderates.

Now that we know voters in Colorado and around the country overwhelmingly support this issue, we must harness the political will to make expanding and improving access to high-quality early childhood education a reality.

If we don’t reach kids at an early age — a child’s brain is largely developed by the time they enter kindergarten — their chances of success later in life greatly decrease. The type of environment and the quality of interaction to which children are exposed in the first five years of life greatly influences the outcomes of their adult lives. We must do all we can to supply our youngest residents with everything they need for a strong start in life.

Early childhood care and education is a major focus of the David and Laura Merage Foundation, which has been incubating Early Learning Ventures since 2008. The ELV model equips early childhood care and education providers with a strong business operations foundation so that they can offer outstanding care for better child outcomes.

As a successful business leader, I know that high-quality early childhood care and education is critical for a prepared and vibrant workforce. That is why I joined with several others to found Executives Partnering to Invest in Children, a coalition of business leaders, nonprofit and foundation executives who are all committed to making early childhood care, education, health and parenting among the highest priorities of Colorado’s public and private investments.

Without children who are prepared for college and future careers, we will be deprived of the innovative leaders our state needs to grow our economy.

Research shows children living in poverty who don’t have access to high-quality early education programs are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school and 60 percent more likely to never attend college.

Yet nationally, just two out of five American children are enrolled in preschool. The numbers are worse here in Colorado. According to a recent report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, Colorado ranked 22nd among the 50 states with only one in five of our state’s 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

Additionally, investing in early learning programs has a huge economic impact. A comprehensive, national early childhood education program would add $2 trillion to the annual GDP within a generation, according to the Brookings Institution.

We know Colorado voters, regardless of political affiliation, want all presidential candidates to prioritize our kids as they stump through our state on the road to the White House.

Now it’s time for the candidates to listen and act. Our kids deserve it.

David Merage is chairman and CEO of Consolidated Investment Group and a founding member of Executives Partnering to Invest in Children based in Englewood.