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In the Nation's Interest

Lenny Mendonca: Invest in Early Childhood Now!

By Lenny Mendonca
Director Emeritus, McKinsey & Company
Trustee, Committee for Economic Development

Invest in Early Childhood Now!

The development of a child’s brain is remarkable.  In its first years, 700 new neural connections are formed each second, and lay the groundwork for learning.  But without a healthy environment and enriching interaction, it can be impaired, and to such an extent that the child is at greater risk for problems down the road relating to health, behavior and achievement.

These experiences are disproportionately felt by kids in poverty, which is why a stronger commitment is undoubtedly needed to prevent developmental challenges from arising in their earliest years.  It’s nonetheless encouraging that lawmakers are beginning to recognize the significance of a strong foundation for children, and are making bipartisan progress, including a national 6.9% increase in state pre-K funding from fiscal year 2012-2013.  Under Massachusetts’ Democratic Governor, Deval Patrick, the state devoted a commendable $15 million in the 2013-2014 fiscal year to help move low-income kids off the waitlist and into childcare and the classroom.  And Michigan, led by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, holds the mantel for the largest overall pre-K increase, at $65 million. 

The momentum taking place is being fueled not only by concerned parents and policymakers, but also the business community, a group not typically aligned with 4-year-olds.  At the policy organization of which I’m a Trustee, the Committee for Economic Development, our member Trustees involved in advancing this issue come from industries ranging from real estate to energy.  Our 2012 report, Unfinished Business, stresses that along with adequate investments at both the federal and state level, business leaders can do their part by committing funds to public-private partnerships.  Additionally, they must use the leverage they enjoy in their communities to speak up about the importance and urgency of this issue.
Unlike most public policy ideas today, early education is making progress, and the national sentiment is ripe for progress to continue.  A survey from the First Five Years Fund revealed that, among national priorities, Americans rank ensuring our children get a strong start as the second most important (increasing jobs and economic growth was first).  It is up to us and the diverse national support network to ensure the momentum results in action so all kids – including those who otherwise would start behind the curve – have a strong foundation on which to grow both intellectually and socially.

Trustee blogs are the views of an individual trustee and not the official policy of CED.