A new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce is calling for business leaders to get more involved with early-childhood education.
“We’re starting to understand in a way that we never have before that those first years are laying the foundation for success in kindergarten, in elementary school, in high school, and ultimately in the workplace,” said Katharine Stevens, the author of the report and the head of the early-childhood program at the American Enterprise Institute. “If we don’t lay the foundation right, that undermines future efforts to develop the kind of workforce that business needs.”
The report, entitled “Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Childcare,” stresses that improving child care helps current workers be more productive and helps future workers by giving them a solid foundation. It calls this a two-generation approach.
Child Care vs. Preschool
The report also doesn’t make a distinction between child care and preschool, noting that most children spend more time in a child-care setting than in programs like pre-K. A child that goes into child care as an infant may be in that setting for 30-50 hours per week through age 4, while a child in a full-day pre-K program may only be there for six hours a day for 180 school days.
Stevens adds that child care has a profound impact for better or for worse on children depending on the quality of the care.
“They learn wherever they are and from whomever they’re with starting at birth no matter what we call where they are, whether we call it home, or child care, or grandma’s house, or pre-K, they’re learning,” said Stevens. “The question is only whether they’re in an environment that’s having a positive impact on their learning or a negative impact, but they’re learning no matter what.”
Barriers to Child Care
The report notes that quality child care can help close the achievement gap between children from upper- and middle-income families and those from lower-income families. It also points out that high-quality child care is often hard to come by for these families because the best providers tend to be located in more-affluent communities and because the price of the best care can be cost prohibitive.
These problems can lead some lower-income people to drop out of the workforce altogether to take care of their children themselves. More than 70 percent of the poor who are not working give taking care of family as the number one reason.
To turn this situation around, the report urges business leaders to get involved by doing everything from helping others in the field understand the economic impact of high-quality child care to donating to child-care facilities in low-income neighborhoods and providing their employees with a child-care benefits program or on-site child care.
It also lists several successful business initiatives around the country to support high-quality child care such as a coalition in Mississippi that has raised more than $6 million to support a program to improve children’s school readiness.
“Any actions that members of the business community take to learn more about this, to educate their peers about this, to help educate policy makers about this, that’s all crucial for our ongoing conversation about how do we handle this, what do we do,” said Stevens.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.