Project Launches 10-Year Initiative to Link Early Education, Economy
A group of business leaders, economists, and philanthropists last week formally unveiled a 10-year project to make early education a top U.S. economic priority.
Concerns over global competition, the need for an innovative and better-trained workforce, and the growing national debt spurred the development of the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, said Robert Dugger, the chairman of the project’s advisory board. He is one of the project’s 12 funders and the managing director of Tudor Investment Corp., a Greenwich, Conn.-based financial-services company.
Educating children in their earliest years is not only a moral imperative, he said, but also a sound economic investment that will yield a healthy rate of return. “You want to grow the economy?” he said. “Invest in kids.”
The $3.1 million project is the latest signal of corporate America’s increasing interest and involvement in young children’s education, business leaders said at the Committee for Economic Development’s annual conference on early education, held here on March 7 at the National Press Club. It was the third such conference sponsored by the CED, a business-led public-policy group based in Washington, and Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group. Both are funders of the new partnership.
While representatives of five corporations attended the first conference, the number at the second conference tripled, and more than doubled this year to 35. In addition, participation in the partnership already has grown since its inception last year from a handful of corporate and philanthropic leaders to about 100, and its leaders hope to increase that number to 1,000 businesses by early 2008.
The project has a three-phase strategy: research, coalition-building, and communication. The partnership is now in a two-year research phase, and is commissioning about 15 studies to find out the economic benefits of early education, the scope and size of the youth-capital sector, policy options for public and private financing, and information for building a communications campaign.
The Washington-based Pew Charitable Trusts manages and helps fund the Partnership for America’s Economic Success. The project’s other sponsors include the Omaha, Neb.-based Buffett Early Childhood Fund and the New York City-based educational publisher Scholastic Inc.
Mr. Dugger said he envisions the partnership as a change agent for early education, much as MoveOn.org, the Web-based liberal grassroots-advocacy and political-action group, has been for state and national politics.
“This is not a bunch of Head Start teachers trying to get more federal funding,” he said. “This is an entire economic sector.”
Providing a sound and academically rigorous education to the nation’s youngest children is among the most effective ways to ensure they become productive workers and citizens in adulthood, said conference presenters. Research shows that the human brain develops fastest up to age 5, they noted.
“Destiny is determined way earlier than we had earlier believed,” said Kenneth A. Burdick, the chief executive officer of Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealthcare. “There’s a harsh, undeniable truth here. [It’s determined] way before kindergarten. If kids start behind, they continue behind, and they stay behind.”
Yet relatively little state and federal education funding flows to early education, said C. Eugene Steuerle, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Urban Institute, in presenting preliminary findings from a report commissioned by the partnership.
The Partnership for America’s Success has five goals for its initial, two-year evidence-gathering phase. The project is commissioning about 15 reports on these topics:
1) Early-childhood development strategies with proven rates of return
2) The macroeconomic impact of early-childhood investments for a state or nation
3) Policy options for financing investments in early childhood
4) The size and scope of economic sectors that help develop human capital and their potential to become early-education advocates
5) Communication strategies to change public policy on early-childhood education
“Kids in the budget are leftovers,” he said. “They get what’s left over from [other] people.”
Some corporations and foundations already are working to improve access to early education, focusing on low-income families. PNC Financial Services, for example, is committing $100 million over 10 years to early-education initiatives through demonstration grants, communication campaigns, and advocacy.
Educare, a network of nonprofit early-education and child-care centers in Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Omaha, Seattle, and Tulsa, was created with donations from foundations such as the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, and the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention Fund. The network also has received funding from George Kaiser, the president and chief executive officer of the Tulsa, Okla.-based Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. Mr. Kaiser’s family foundation also pays for an endowed professorship in early education at the University of Oklahoma’s college of education.
And in Minnesota, the foundation of the Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., a food and agricultural-services company, and the Greater Twin Cities United Way pledged $2.5 million to create the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, a public-private partnership to help deliver early education to more than 10,500 children statewide.
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