How Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines America's Rural Communities
Council for a Strong America and early childhood educators release a film and report discussing the lack of high-quality early education and care in rural America
Yesterday, Council for a Strong America members and early childhood providers joined a panel discussion to release a new national report, entitled “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines America’s Rural Communities.” The report highlights the disproportionate challenges that rural children face in accessing high-quality early programs and other supports. The screening of a short film that further describes this pressing problem accompanied the virtual roundtable.
Children in rural America are struggling—their families and communities are struggling, too. They are in dire need of greater access to high-quality and affordable early education programs. The panelists and the new report made it clear that lawmakers need to invest in these programs so that improved access to high-quality childhood education will better the lives of children and families in these areas and make the nation stronger as a whole.
To remedy this lack of access, business leaders and those across other sectors need to advocate for change. “No matter where you are in America, you’re not far from a rural community,” said Thomas Dempster, Director at IFAM Capital and former South Dakota State Senator. “The lack of high-quality early childhood education can be solved with tailored investments in these areas by federal and state government, business, non-profits, charities, families, neighborhoods, and you and me. All our children should own the American Dream.”
Improving access to these crucial supports in rural communities will also help reduce crime. Individuals who engage in criminal activity are more likely to have lacked educational or other early childhood supports. “In fact, six out of every ten incarcerated persons in America’s state prisons did not graduate high school,” Astoria (OR) Police Chief Geoff Spalding explained. “The consequences of what happens when a child is very young can include outcomes that put that individual on a bad path in life.”
Early childhood programs’ scarcity in rural America also affects national security. Today, 71 percent of young adults ages 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service, mostly because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a disqualifying record of crime or drug abuse. Mission: Readiness member Maj. Gen. (Ret.) James C. Johnson, U.S. Air Force, discussed why early childhood programs are so important to the strength of our military. “They help build a better future for our nation’s next generations by starting as soon as possible in their young lives. These programs are also critical to preventing negative physical, mental, and emotional outcomes, including disqualification for military service.”
Early childhood educators Mindy Young, Consultant and Trainer at Dawson County (NE) Early Childhood Professional Learning Series, and Leigh Sargent, Early Learning Director, Tallahatchie (MS) Early Learning Collaborative, joined the panel to advocate for the programs they know firsthand positively impact communities. “Availability of quality [child] care is essential for a community’s sustainability and growth,” Young said. “We must continue to invest in pre-K,” Sargent urged. “We must continue to invest in the lives of early learners.”
As mentioned by Chief Spalding, lawmakers can take several actions to help, including supporting existing child care providers in managing the business aspects of their work, as well as by requiring states to provide technical assistance in meeting regulations. Tailored investments for children in rural communities will help ensure a strong future for our nation.
Video of the full event, as well as the short film, are both available below. You can read the full report here.