Preschool and the Economy: What’s the Impact on the Future?

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“Third grade reading levels and absenteeism predict, with 90% accuracy, high school drop-out rate.”

 I was startled by this statistic as I sat listening to the details at the Investing in Kids: Can Early Childhood Education Be an Economic Development? conference yesterday afternoon.  As the stats were reported, I was astounded by the impact on our children.

For instance:

  • 44 out of 50 first graders who have experienced difficulty in reading will continue to have difficulty in fourth grade
  • 30% of Erie county children are below proficient in reading
  • Children of low Social Economic Status (SES) at three years of age have 300 words in their vocabulary versus children of high SES, at the same age, have 1100.
  • Only 38% of PA preschool children are served in publicly funded early education programs
  • Quality early education improves outcomes for a lifetime

I’ve always been a proponent of quality early childhood education and attended Maryvale preschool myself. I see the impact every day in the children attending the BNI.  The preschool platform is preparing them for the kindergarten/elementary school experience.  However, what I didn’t realize was how a quality preschool education will drive the economic growth and prosperity of the United States into the future.

Our workforce skill needs are rapidly changing.  It’s estimated that 63% of workers will need to have post-secondary education in order to qualify for US jobs in 2018.  To meet the 2018 education requirements demand, we must increase college degrees by 10% a year.

Yes, this seems daunting and potentially unreachable; however, by making the commitment to universal quality preschool programs, we can be successful. The PNC Grow up Great program  is an illustration of what’s possible. PNC took a leadership role in acknowledging the importance of early childhood. PNC serves as an example to the power of collaboration between business/public/private sectors.

In this era of tight budgets, both on a state and federal level, it is only through a private and public partnership that we will accomplish the goal of quality early childhood programs for all children.

The conference, sponsored by the Economic Research Institute of Erie and held at the Burke Center, Penn State Behrend, brought together the businesses, private/public sectors, and created a dialogue regarding the importance of the economic impact of investing in young children. Timothy J. Bartik, Ph.D., author of Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local Economic Development, spoke alongside distinguished panel members Mary Bula, Vice President of the United Way; Nancy Kalista, Executive Director of Early Connections; Dr. Andrew J. Pushchak, Educational Leadership Programs of Edinboro University; Nick Scott Jr., of the PA Early Learning Investment Connection; Dr. James Tracy, Superintendent of Girard School District; and Senator Sean Wiley, Pennsylvania, 49th District.

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