Op-Ed | September 12, 2018

Building Michigan's Future Economy Begins with Children

Laying the foundation for a strong economy in Michigan starts with investments in high-quality, proven programs for kids, says Carl Camden

Members of the law enforcement and faith communities recently gathered at a child care center in Midland to make the case for investments in high-quality early childhood and afterschool programs.

Joined by Congressman John Moolenaar (R-4th District), Pastor Don Milton of New Life Vineyard Church and Midland County Sheriff Scott Stephenson explained that these programs help make families more stable and safe, and keep children on a path away from crime.

I applaud Pastor Milton and Sheriff Stephenson, but I’d like to add my own voice to the chorus.

The faith and public-safety perspectives are extremely important, but I approach this issue from yet another angle. The business perspective. The workforce perspective. The economic perspective.

I’ve spent my entire career thinking about how to get as many skilled workers as possible into our workforce. There’s no question in my mind that investments in high-quality early education and care programs are an essential part of building the future workforce we need in Michigan.

First, there are all the long-term academic benefits that pre-K is shown to have. Research spotlighted by the national business-leader group ReadyNation tells us that high-quality early learning helps lay the groundwork for stronger math and reading skills, which leads to better performance in school, better graduation rates, and higher college enrollment rates.

To give one specific example, research shows that kids who participated in our own state’s Great Start Readiness Program had a 35 percent increase in high-school graduation rates compared to children who didn’t participate.

The potential for positive, long-term impacts makes sense, as the scientific consensus is that the first few years of life are a period of unparalleled brain development. And all of those positive impacts contribute to producing graduates who are more likely to have the skills that Michigan employers desperately need.

There’s no question in my mind that investments in high-quality early education and care programs are an essential part of building the future workforce we need in Michigan.

Meanwhile, high-quality child care can set the stage for a lot of the lessons young children will later learn in school, particularly when it comes to social-emotional development. Beyond that, though, child care has an impact on the workplace today. If parents lack affordable child-care alternatives, they can become distracted at work, miss work altogether, or even have to leave their jobs.

Research indicates that child care problems cost American employers billions every year. Improving access to and the quality of child care can increase productivity today and tomorrow.

I also agree with the gentlemen in Midland that afterschool programs are another piece of the puzzle, and can support a pipeline for success in school and life. We know that programs like the ones supported by 21st Century Community Learning Centers can help keep our most vulnerable young people from becoming a sad statistic, either getting mixed up in crime themselves, or becoming a victim of crime. Even though more than 200,000 Michigan students are enrolled in afterschool programs, over 600,000 are waiting for an available program, and 370,000 K-12 students are alone and unsupervised after school. Across the country, more than 19 million at-risk kids don’t have access to programs through 21st Century Community Learning Centers, even though they qualify.

Those are scary numbers.

That’s why I’m grateful that Congressman Moolenaar has been such a champion on these issues. As Congress negotiates spending plans for Fiscal Year 2019, it’s vital for the strength of Michigan’s families, for public safety, and for our future workforce that we continue to invest in high-quality early education and care programs, as well as afterschool programs.

Carl Camden is Founder and President at the Association of Independent Workers and a member of ReadyNation


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