Investing In Our Youngest Residents



I am a proud mom to a precocious five-year-old who is registered and ready to head off to kindergarten this August. As we move towards this next phase of our lives, I look back at our experiences with early learning and am once again struck with how important quality early education is not only to us as a family, but “us” as a community.

Early childhood education is the development and education of children from birth to age five. This time in a child’s life is as critical in terms of brain growth as it is for social, cognitive and emotional development. In fact, eighty-five percent of a human’s brain growth happens by age three. So it’s no wonder that investments made at this critical time in a child’s life yield the highest return rates to society. The later investments are made, the lower the return on that investment. 

High quality early education opportunities prepare children to succeed in academics as well as life, and ultimately strengthens the economy. Because my son had excellent early educational opportunities, statistically he will be more likely to graduate from high school, maintain a job, own a home and positively contribute to society. He is also statistically less likely to be arrested or develop drug or alcohol problems.  

Participation in early education directly addresses the achievement gap and empowers children to avoid certain academic disadvantages as they enter kindergarten. While early learning benefits all children as a whole, the greatest impact can be seen in children of low-income families. When all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, we all benefit.

The strength of our workforce is the key to a stronger economy that generates more growth and higher profits. An early investment in children most positively creates a strong workforce for tomorrow. Today, access to reliable, quality care for children helps working parents increase employment and earnings. This translates into better long-term earnings that will not only benefit the entire family, but the employer, who will see reduced parental absenteeism and a decrease in related expenses.   

The early learning industry plays a critical role in the Sarasota economy. Sarasota has about 175 early care and educational facilities with most teaching less than 50 children (five sites serve over 100). These small businesses have the capacity to serve around 8,500 to 9,000 children. Collectively they employ 1,100 teachers, directors, aides and other workers. These same employees spend those earnings locally and are an integral part of our communities.

So what can we do? Continuing to raise the quality, availability and accessibility of local early educational institutions is critical. Developing and maintaining a mix of public, private and nonprofit programs allows the flexibility needed for families.  Providing for additional resources and greater teacher training allows for new and innovative solutions in the classroom. 

As one report from the US Chamber noted, “the future success and prosperity for all of us is dependent on the education we provide our children today.” While it is becoming a national focus, early childhood education takes place locally. We as a community, individuals and businesses, need do everything we can to support the early learning industry here in the greater Sarasota area.

Amy Farrington is vice president of Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

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