On June 9th, the Subcommittee on Children and Families of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, held a hearing appropriately titled, “Getting the Most Bang for the Buck: Quality Early Education and Care.” Witnesses, who included an economist, a member of the business community, and a former military member, emphasized both the moral and economic sense of providing high-quality early learning experiences to young children.

Joan Lombardi, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Development Liaison for Early Childhood Development, stated in her testimony that science tells us that “brain development is most rapid during the first five years of life, and that early experiences matter for healthy development.” “Interventions in the first years of life are capable of helping to shift the odds for those at risk of poor outcomes toward more positive outcomes.”

Investing in early childhood is not only good for children, but also makes economic sense. “By providing safe supervised settings for young children programs allow parents to work — and look for work.” “In addition, many States and communities have conducted studies and discovered that the early care and education sector has an economic impact that can be as valuable as many other sectors.”

In the long term, as economist and former Vice-President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Arthur J. Rolnick testified, “investing in human capital prior to kindergarten…especially for at-risk children…is the most efficient means to boost the productivity of the workforce 15 to 20 years down the road.” Research shows that investing in early childhood education (ECE) programs can reduce costs to society by lowering costs accrued in special education and crime and increase tax revenue by increasing participants’ later income. “Investing in ECE yields a much higher return than most government-funded economic development initiatives… We don’t pretend to have all the answers to economic development, but we’re quite certain that investing in ECE is more likely to create a vibrant economy than using public funds to lure a sports team by building a new stadium or attracting an automaker by providing tax breaks,” said Rolnick.

The high economic return and community benefits inspired PNC financial services to launch its first corporate-wide philanthropic program, “Grow Up Great,” to “raise awareness of the importance of the first five years of life an to support access to quality early childhood education” testified Eva Tansky Blum, Senior Vice President, Director Community Affairs for PNC. As Blum said, “a bank is only as strong as the community in which we do business.”

The committee also heard the moving personal story of Charles Mills III — a U.S. Naval Academy graduate with a degree in mathematics, former Marine Helicopter Pilot, successful entrepreneur, and participant in the U.S. State Department’s international speaker’s program, as well as a Head Start alumnus. He grew up the youngest of six children with a single mother, who had to work two full-time jobs to support her family. Mills is “certain that the academic foundation that I received from Head Start is a key component to my success as a student.”

The experiences and words of the hearing witnesses make a persuasive case for significant federal and state investments in early education and care. Yet, the FY 2011 appropriations bill enacted in April cut child care spending by $900 million when it failed to sustain most of the child care funding increase provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Further cuts may lie ahead for child care, Head Start, and other early childhood programs as Congress considers deep cuts in domestic spending. Many states have already begun scaling back their child care assistance or prekindergarten programs, which reduces the number of children and families able to participate in these programs and limits resources for boosting quality.

It is time to not just talk about how early care and education provides more bang for the buck but to provide the bucks necessary to ensure that our youngest children get the start they need to be successful adults.

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