Investing in Early Education Programs Kickstarts College- and Career-Readiness

In order for the U.S. to maintain its global economic competitiveness, each student must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills needed for success in college, the workforce and life. But many experts agree high-quality educational programs can’t wait to begin until kindergarten.
Experts agree the U.S. will not have enough adequately trained workers for the jobs of the future without action that leads to college- and career-ready students.
To assist state policymakers in better understanding the components of a high-quality preschool program, The Council of State Governments will host a joint policy workshop sponsored by the National Education Public Policy Committee and CSG West Education Committee from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, Aug. 9, as part of the 2014 Annual Conference in Anchorage, Alaska.
Less than 40 years ago, nearly 75 percent of the jobs in the U.S. could be filled by workers with a high school diploma. As technology has advanced and critical problem-solving skills have become inextricably linked with most occupations, so too has the level of education required for many jobs that were once classified as unskilled.
High-quality preschool education has been shown to produce substantial gains in school readiness, achievement and educational attainment, and higher productivity in the labor force. It also decreases social problems like crime and delinquency. 
Kristin Moore, senior scholar and co-director of youth development at Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center focused on the well-being of children and youth, said the quality of early care and education environments is a critical factor contributing to child outcomes.
“There is consistent research that high-quality early childhood education improves outcomes for at-risk children,” said Moore. “This is a topic under great discussion at the state and national levels. Both academics and economists have reported on the benefits of investing in early childhood education, particularly for at-risk young children.”
In the past, early childhood settings were created to benefit working parents. Now, however, the majority of states develop high-quality preschool programs to serve as a long-term economic investment in the workforce of the future.
Bruce Atchison, executive director of policy and operations for Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan agency tracking state policy trends, said state policymakers should become involved with preschool initiatives. 
“There is a set of early learning guidelines, but no state has enacted them through the legislature or board policy,” said Atchison. “State policies are currently all over the place. These guidelines exist and cover both content and social-emotional strategies.”
CSG’s Subcommittee on Children discussed early intervention strategies as a condition for learning and the critical importance of effective programs to children living in poverty during a meeting in Pine Bluff, Ark.
“Prekindergarten is a big help to families that don’t know you should talk to your child before they start babbling or read to them before they start school,” said Jerri Derlikowski, director of education policy and finance at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
“In the next session, Arkansas is going to consider spending $100 million on a new prison,” said Derlikowski. “My guess is that these funds will be taken from the preschool budget. If we don’t educate the children from preschool and beyond, then we will end up filling that prison because education is the gateway out of poverty.”
Attendees at the CSG meeting in Anchorage will hear from representatives from the National Center on Children in Poverty, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Education Commission of the States and Alaska Best Beginnings about the current state of preschool education and review how states are responding through the use of state policy.
“Children are learning from the day they are born,” said Idaho Sen. Dean Mortimer, chair of CSG West’s Education Committee. “Early learning and preparation for school is important to help children gain confidence, learning skills and discipline. How we, as a society, accomplish this objective is the question.”