As Republicans and Democrats struggle to reach a compromise before the impending fiscal cliff, some media and policy advisors from across the political spectrum are finding agreement on one issue: the importance of investing in early learning and the need to make the well-being of young children a national priority.
Mark McKinnon, a former advisor for President George W. Bush, recently appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss the importance of early childhood intervention. During the interview, McKinnon was asked to identify a specific investment that can improve the well-being of American children. “Money spent early on has a much greater return on investment,” McKinnon responded. Programs that intervene in children’s lives during the crucial years from birth to age five, especially children from low-income families, prepare them for future success and must be prioritized.
McKinnon argues that improving child well-being is part of a broader set of issues that transcend party lines. He is currently working with former Obama campaign advisor Jim Margolis to produce a mass media campaign called Too Small to Fail. Launched in November by the Center for the Next Generation, Too Small to Fail attempts to convey the consequences of neglecting the needs of our nation’s children and highlight strategies for supporting children.
Early childhood investments also received support from a range of policy experts at a recent Brookings Institute forum on reducing poverty and increasing opportunity. Former policy advisor to the Obama administration, Mona Sutphen, among others, made the case for more action on the early childhood agenda. Sutphen said that expanding access to affordable child care is fundamental. She argued that the central concern facing American parents is child care, yet the U.S. falls short in its policies for addressing this basic need.
Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a conversation about child care and early education as a national priority that is essential to the well-being of our children and families and the strength of our economy. High-quality child care and early education enables parents to be productive workers today and prepares children to succeed in school and ultimately contribute to the workforce of the future. It is encouraging that more and more people are recognizing this. Yet, with child care, Head Start, and other early learning programs under threat of budget cuts, we will need even more support from both sides of the aisle, and more concrete action, to ensure that we protect and expand our investments in this critical area.