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In the Nation's Interest

Business Champions for the Advancement of Early Childhood Education Spotlight: Mike Chesser, Great Plains Energy (Ret.)

by CED January 15, 2019

Michael Chesser, former Chairman and CEO of Great Plains Energy, Inc., is a Business Champion for CED's Early Education initiative, which is a collaboration between business leaders and education experts to increase the quality, access, and affordability of early learning opportunities for all children across the country.

Below are some of his thoughts on the importance of early childhood education.

1. How did you become interested in the early education sector?

I was working at Baltimore Gas and Electric and was simultaneously the Chairman of the Woodbourne Center, a residential treatment center for kids aged 12 to 18. I didn’t see any real results from this program and became frustrated. While doing research on how to make better investments in kids and education, I came across a report from CED, which had a statistic that noted for every $1 invested in children, the payback return is $7.

More research led me to believe investing in early childhood education is the best way to increase future economic prosperity, so I started an early childhood education movement in Atlantic City.

2. Why is being involved in early education important to you?

The biggest threat to our nation is from a lack of investment in the education sector. A majority of the population is largely uninvolved in this arena, but it’s the biggest chance we have to change outcomes.

We need to do right by future generations by teaching them the right set of values so they can be productive members of society, and that begins with our involvement and investment in early childhood education—it’s where we can make the biggest impact.

3. What role should business leaders and the business community have in early education?

Business leaders and the business community have a critical role when it comes to early education. Business people have gotten behind the fact that this is the right investment and the right time, and pushing other leaders to do what has to be done (even if that means raising taxes) is crucial.

For example, CED came to Kansas City (MO) and presented on the importance of investing in early childhood education to the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, which inspired key business people to push the mayor to raise taxes and make universal pre-k a reality. This is the kind of role the business community needs to play in early education.

4. How have early childhood education issues changed over time, and how can the business community help solve them?

It’s interesting. Awareness is a big part because people still don’t quite understand what quality early childhood education looks like. It’s not all about regimented teaching like you have in elementary school. Today, skilled teachers are able to integrate play and curriculum to get children to learn without them even knowing they’re learning something. Technology is changing these roles as well.