Reader's View: Idaho education reforms — let’s get it right first time

October 7, 2013 

The prosperity of Idaho’s businesses depends largely upon the preparation we provide to our children. All of our children need access to learning opportunities that will help them become good citizens with strong minds. And we must start in the early years.

The first few years of a child’s life are critical because that is when the architecture of the brain develops. The quality of that architecture establishes either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all development and behavior — and getting things right the first time is easier than trying to fix them later. If a child does not get the right kinds of human interaction in the first few years of life, the impacts on the child’s brain development may be irreversible.

Early childhood education is a vehicle for positive and repeated interaction that can build a strong brain structure. The lifetime benefits to children from early childhood education are numerous: higher graduation rates and overall educational attainment, lower teenage pregnancy rates, lower drug usage rates, higher lifetime earnings, and greater productivity. Children who experience quality early childhood education programs learn lifelong skills such as perseverance and self-control. Quality early childhood education develops a child intellectually, socially and emotionally.

Because quality early childhood education is critical to the development of our children, it is also a critical investment in the future of our state and our country. To remain globally competitive, we must have a highly educated, skilled labor force. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated, “No economy can succeed without a high-quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalization and technical change ... formal K-12 and post-secondary education, as important as they are, do not alone build better workforces.

“Research increasingly has shown the importance for both individuals and the economy as a whole of both early childhood education as well as efforts to promote the lifelong acquisition of skills.” Or, perhaps, more bluntly, as Larry Kellner, former CEO of Continental Airlines, states, “Get it right the first time.”

When our children have a solid foundation, they contribute to our communities in ways that pay off. Research shows that for every dollar invested in early childhood education today, savings range from $2.50 to as much as $17 in the years ahead. Arthur Rolnick and Robert Grunewalk estimate an inflation-adjusted annual rate of return as high as 16 percent for high-quality early childhood education for disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds. (In comparison, over the past 10 years, the S&P 500 has an inflation-adjusted annualized rate of return of 7.18 percent if dividends are reinvested.)

Those savings come from a reduced need for remedial and special education classes, involvement with the police and judicial system, incarceration, and health care and other public benefits. Additionally, we see an increase in tax revenues from employed citizens.

Businesses need employees who can create new products, solve complex problems and motivate teams to excel, and who are focused on their jobs knowing their children have access to high-quality affordable early education opportunities. Business leaders will be attracted to communities that provide employees with that type of education system.

States from Maine to Utah are discussing investment in early childhood education. Idaho cannot afford to be left behind. Business leaders must send a message to the governor, the superintendent of public instruction, and the members of the Idaho Task Force for Improving Education that we want early childhood education included in reform discussions. Without it, we’ll be playing catch-up for years to come. Let’s get it right this time.

Mike Mooney is president, Idaho Region, Bank of the Cascades. Brad Wiskerchen is CEO of Keynetics, Inc.

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