BUILDing Strong Foundations

Rallying Economic Support for Early Care and Education

3/4/2014 12:00:00 AM
Posted by: BUILD Initiative

Andrew Brodsky EC finance expertAndrew Brodsky, Principal
Brodsky Research and Consulting

In his provocative post, Andrew Brodsky offers state leaders ideas on how to rally support for early care and education interventions in their state and local communities by communicating the economic benefits.

An extensive body of research demonstrates that early childhood interventions are among the most cost-effective public investments we can make. The evidence in favor of high-quality early childhood programming is clear.

But converting solid research into policy change can be challenging. Skeptical, recession-weary audiences may be averse to new funding initiatives. Additionally, overly academic discussions of social program details may alienate those who are not experts in the field.

Fortunately, early childhood state leaders are in a unique position to advance positive change. One of the keys to success is clearly communicating the importance of early childhood investments. With that in mind, here are five messages for state leaders to use when they talk to legislators, funders, and voters.

Message 1: Everyone’s Doing It

Robust early childhood initiatives have become a signature platform element for politicians and legislators across the nation. In New York, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo are battling over who gets credit for the biggest, most comprehensive preschool intervention.

In California, a push is underway to add 350,000 slots to the state’s preschool program. Other cities considering preschool programs include San Antonio; Cambridge, MA; and Providence, RI. Existing programs, such as New Jersey’s Abbott Preschool program and Oklahoma’s pre-K program, have been hailed as models for new programs across the nation.

The moral: More and more states and cities are coming to understand the value of early childhood investments. Fail to keep up, and risk falling behind.

Message 2: We Can’t Afford Not to

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, affluent or poor, money talks. We know that every investment we make in our social infrastructure has a cost. But, compared to most traditional business investments, early care and education (ECE) pays off. An investor would be pretty impressed by a stock that reliably yielded returns of six to 13 times the initial investment, as early childhood programs do, according to the research.

Early childhood programs are unique in that they sidestep one of the central political bugaboos surrounding public investments: the so-called equity-efficiency tradeoff. This economic principle asserts that in order to increase efficiency (in other words, wealth), we must make our society less equitable. A stronger economy means bigger divisions between rich and poor.

Fortunately, in the case of early childhood this tradeoff is reversed: Investing in our most at-risk children has the effect both of increasing equity and improving the strength of our economy, by creating educated, healthy citizens ready to participate in the workforce.

Message 3: It’s the Economy (and Jobs), Stupid!

It made sense when President Bill Clinton scribbled it on a notepad in campaign headquarters in 1992, and it makes sense now. A strong education pipeline is the best route towards a robust economy and an effective and employed workforce. Amid increasing concern about the quality of the U.S. education pipeline, ECE is one of the best ways to make sure that our education system produces citizens capable of productively participating in our society and our economy.

What do we want our country to look like in 20 or 30 years? Do we want to cede our economic leadership, or do we want to make sure that the United States is the most robust economy in the world? It can’t happen without smart investments. Evidence-based preschool and other early childhood supports are among the most effective.

Message 4: Create Nontraditional Allies

In a political environment that seems increasingly fractured along partisan lines, it’s tempting to make assumptions about which groups are likely to support early childhood investments. Conventional wisdom says that preschool is a liberal darling. But that assumption is far too simplistic. The business community, for example, is one of the best allies for early childhood policy change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, known for its conservative lean, has strongly endorsed early childhood investments. Political leaders of both parties are getting behind preschool interventions.

Across the states, investing in preschool is an increasingly bipartisan issue. For example, last year 13 states controlled by a Republican legislature and governor increased preschool spending. And a poll commissioned last summer found that 70 percent of voters supported Obama’s preschool plan, including 60% of Republicans.

Message 5: Don’t Forget the Cute Faces

There’s plenty of cold, hard research to support early childhood investments. But people are human, and they respond to real stories – and to the eager, curious faces of those children for whom we work so hard. Take your local legislator on a tour of a local high-performing preschool. Make real connections with real kids. When talking to business people or legislators or voters, talk about your own experience, your own kids – and theirs.

Real stories of real people speak to our core values, those issues of equity, fairness, caring, and education that we all share. All Americans, no matter the political perspective, can agree on basic values for our youngest children.

The Upshot: Evidence + Values = Change

These five messages combine two elements essential to driving public policy: a strong evidence base and an appeal to our shared values. Early childhood state leaders can motivate their constituents by effectively communicating the evidence about early childhood investments and combining it with a value frame that all of us share: the importance of improving the lives of all of our children and making our nation as strong as it can be.


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2 comment(s) so far...
    • Apr 07 2014, 4:08 PM Maureen Boggs
    • I am interested to learn of support program models and investments in building the financial and operational capacity of early childhood businesses. Any information would be appreciated.

    • Apr 11 2014, 10:48 AM Andrew Brodsky
    • Additional comments in response to questions posed by readers: There are a few ways to think about how to understand the financial realities of providers, and how to provide supports and funding to make sure providing high quality care is feasible. Understanding the revenues and expenses for specific types of providers (such as centers or homes, high or low quality, large or small) can be helpful in understanding whether it’s really feasible to run a high-quality center in a given area, or whether additional supports are needed. This ought to be incorporated into a larger policy-oriented conversation about resources available and the “resource gap” between available funding and actual expenses. This gap can be addressed in a number of ways, but a tiered quality reimbursement approach, coupled with quality grants or other supports to build quality, may be most effective. On the operational side, approaches such as the shared services model come to mind in helping make it more feasible for small providers to accomplish tasks such as bookkeeping, payments, etc.

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