Children are born learning. And what they learn in their first few years has the potential to change the course of their lives.
Brains are built and grow through touch, talk, sight and sound in early childhood experiences. This experiential learning starts long before a child steps foot into kindergarten, and is strengthened through regular interaction and stimulation in the home and in quality early learning settings.
Unfortunately, children from low-income families are far less likely to have access to the high-quality early developmental experiences that are proven to dramatically improve their opportunities for a better future.
What’s more, the overwhelming research tells us that children who face adversity in the first years of life, especially those living in poverty, are more at risk for experiencing damage to their brain architecture, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. Prevention through high-quality early learning and care provides the support children need to build a foundation for a healthy and productive future, making them more likely to earn higher wages, live healthier lives, avoid incarceration, raise stronger families, and contribute to society.
That’s why the First Five Years Fund believes the best investment our nation can make is in high-quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children from birth through age five.
Investing in America’s youngest learners is a solution that creates upward mobility through opportunity.
And evidence shows that increased access to high-quality early childhood learning and care programs results in short- and long-term benefits to both individuals and society. In fact, some programs have demonstrated that every dollar invested delivers a 13 percent per year return on investment.
However, today, less than one in five low-income children are enrolled in high-quality early childhood education, and nearly 90 percent of children who are eligible for support from some federal programs do not receive it because of a lack of federal funding.
The good news is, early childhood education is an issue that unites American voters. According to our latest national poll, 79 percent of voters—including 80% of Trump voters and 79% of Clinton voters—want Congress and the administration to work together to improve the quality of child care and preschool, and make it more affordable for parents.
Congress has made great progress over recent years to create new early learning opportunities for children across the country. Members on both sides of the aisle have worked together to significantly increase funding, while also enacting reforms to existing early childhood programs that elevate quality and leverage state and local leadership.
And while states and communities are making tremendous progress on early learning, they can’t do it alone. In fact, the nation’s governors recently wrote a letter to leaders in Congress urging them to strengthen the federal government’s partnership with states on early childhood education.
How Donors Can Take Action
As we begin a new calendar year, and as Congress develops its legislative agenda, support for quality early childhood education should be a top priority. At the same time, as funders and donors consider how best to leverage their philanthropic giving, investing in bipartisan federal advocacy organizations like First Five Years Fund helps expand the potential for large-scale change, and new opportunities for families who might otherwise be left behind. America’s young children – and our future – depend on it.
Original contribution by Kris Perry, Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, a bipartisan federal advocacy organization working to create a smarter, stronger, healthier, and more productive America through greater access to high-quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children.
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