Last week, two retired generals from Nebraska called on policymakers to support high-quality early childhood education. At first glance, it seems an odd topic for generals to be speaking out on, but it’s part of a growing recognition about the wide-ranging importance of early childhood education. Lately, it seems everyone from business leaders to law enforcement officials is recognizing the potential of quality early childhood education. A recent report from the National Governor’s Association also calls on Governors to take a leadership role in connecting early education with the K-12 system.
The generals were speaking on behalf of a group called Mission Readiness, which touts smart investments in kids as a way of preparing more of them for military service. Currently, 75 percent of 17 to 24 year olds nationwide are unable to serve in the military due primarily to obesity, criminal history or poor educational attainment. The group released a report last week that found that 1 and 6 Nebraskans who wants to serve in the military can’t do so because of being unable to meet math and literacy requirements and 44 percent of young adults are overweight or obese.
The report points to the fact that 63 percent of Nebraska kids aren’t served by state early childhood programs and highlights this as an area where we can make a significant difference in outcomes for kids. Smart investments in young children aren’t just a matter of opportunity for the individual child, it’s about ensuring that our state has the workers, taxpayers, soldiers and business leaders that our community and our economy are going to need in the future.
Increasingly, research points to the fact that the early childhood is an area with significant opportunity because of the brain development that occurs in those years. By ensuring success during the early years, we have the opportunity to minimize the risk of children developing issues that become more complicated — and more costly — to address later.
One big opportunity that Nebraska has to reach more kids who may benefit from high quality early education is through the child care subsidy program. The program serves about 15% of our state’s kids under the age of 5. By improving quality standards in this program, we could reach a significant number of our state’s low-income kids who are more at risk for experiencing challenges related to poverty than their higher income peers.
We’re glad to see a diverse range of stakeholders speaking out about early childhood education and hope that it will translate into greater attention to the issue by policymakers.