The Journal Gazette
Friday, November 08, 2019 1:00 am

Benefits of early education touted

$2 billion lost annually, observers say

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

High-quality early childhood education can plug holes in Indiana's economy that lead to nearly $2 billion in losses each year for employers, business leaders said Thursday.

The losses – about $1.8 billion annually in Indiana and $200 million locally, according to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership – come from costs associated with employee absences or turnover related to a lack of access to early childhood education.

“Caring for our children is not a burden; a mere inconvenience leading to absenteeism and an unnecessary business expense,” partnership CEO John Sampson said. “We cannot overlook or underestimate the benefits of supporting employees to assure that they are able to fulfill the critical needs of our youth and future workforce.

“In an age where the national talent shortage is at a critical stage, how can we afford to not engage and confront this issue? For our region, solving this challenge could offset the equivalent of 3,000 full-time employees.”

Sampson spoke at the Early Learning Summit for Economic Development, which was hosted by the partnership and held at Purdue University Fort Wayne. It was the fourth time the gathering was held in the state, but the first time in Fort Wayne.

The summit featured speakers and discussion about how to “better understand the business case for investment in quality early childhood education and how to support Indiana's workforce,” according to a news release.

Jim Spurlino, who runs a concrete business in Ohio and has been an outspoken advocate of early childhood education, delivered the keynote speech. Providing access to early childhood education is good for children, their parents and the employers of the parents, he said, comparing learning to pouring concrete for construction.

“The foundation in the building is just like our early childhood efforts – we've got to get it right,” Spurlino said.

The First Five Years Fund, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advocates for increased access to early learning programs, argues that “economic development starts with early childhood development,” its website states. Every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education generates about $7.30 “in economic returns,” according to the organization. 

Lack of affordable, quality child care costs families in the U.S. about $8 billion each year, First Five Years Fund researchers found. 

Studies have shown simply finding child care is a challenge for many families. 

The Center for American Progress in 2018 found more than half of Americans live in “child care deserts” – areas without licensed providers for children under 5 or less than one spot in a licensed child care center for every three children younger than 5. 

There are at least 12 child care deserts in Allen County – many on the south side of Fort Wayne – researchers from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business reported this year. 

“As a parent of two adult children and now privileged to experience grandparenting four young granddaughters, I see every day how early experiences – and in some cases early intervention – are key to future talents, some that will be seen in our future leaders,” Madeleine Baker of the Early Childhood Alliance said in a statement. “While we are talking about children's development before they enter kindergarten, we should all be mindful that quality early foundations are significant.”

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