All Maine parents want bright futures for their children. All Maine employers want prosperous futures for their businesses and employees. These employers know that to accomplish this they need to find and retain bright, hardworking, conscientious, qualified employees. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce strongly believes that education is the single most important investment that can be made to help reach these goals.
Education is the key to success in our new knowledge-based economy. Our K-12 education system can provide important building blocks for success after high school, but what it provides today too frequently may not be enough. Both early childhood education and postsecondary education and training are becoming increasingly important. That is why the Maine State Chamber of Commerce is endorsing LD 1530, An Act to Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Prekindergarten Education.
Moving all Maine children toward their highest potential is imperative. Unfortunately, many Maine K-12 public school systems don’t offer early childhood (birth to age 5) care and education. That time period is when 85 percent or more of brain development occurs. Early childhood care and education from birth to age 5 receives minimal funding (if any at all) and is not integrated into overall education system components. It is a missed opportunity.
Research shows that children who receive high-quality early childhood care and education are more likely to succeed academically, more likely to finish high school, go on to postsecondary education, achieve higher wage earning potential, own their own homes and bring in a higher return on investment for Maine’s tax base. Conversely, youngsters who lack high-quality early childhood care and education are statistically more likely to require remedial education, more likely to drop out of school, become teen parents, engage in teen and adult criminal behavior, and be dependant participants in our social service programs.
A 2011 report by America’s Edge shows that investments in quality early childhood care and education can generate surprising short-term and long-term gains for Maine’s economy and bottom lines for Maine’s businesses. It details how these investments will help lead to improved goods and services, job creation and economic growth, while at the same time reducing public social services expenditures. Key to this success is the creation of a Maine workforce with the 21st-century skills needed in a global marketplace.
This same report also highlights other interesting advantages generated from investments in quality early learning, such as:
— Every $1 invested in early care and education in Maine actually generates $1.78 in economic activity for local goods and services.
— This is more than the $1.71 economic multiplier for farming, forestry, fishing and hunting; more than the $1.68 multiplier for transportation; more than each multiplier for construction, retail trade, wholesale trade, manufacturing and utilities.
— The report goes on to show that early learning investments create and sustain jobs. In fact, every four people employed in the early learning sector create and support another full job outside of the sector. That is real economic development.
— It also points out that quality early learning programs help significantly reduce employee absenteeism, a cumulative occurrence that costs U.S. businesses a whopping $3 billion annually!
The Maine Development Foundation and our Maine State Chamber of Commerce prepared a 2012 report, “Making Maine Work: Investment in Young Children = Real Economic Development.” The report concluded that for Maine’s children to truly reach their potential, it all starts at birth. Waiting to invest in Maine’s most precious assets, our children, until they enter our K-12 system is, for many, too late. To attain our vision of “a high quality of life for all Maine people,” we feel we must ensure that each and every Maine child has access to high-quality care and education from birth.
Investment in early childhood is real economic development. It is not just a social and moral imperative; it is an economic imperative. PreK is a strong step in that direction.
Dana Connors is president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Steve Rich is a Maine State Chamber of Commerce board member.