Video, PowerPoint available at cbia.com/edf/EarlyChildhoodSummit.htm

By Lesia Winiarskyj

Nearly 100 business leaders attended a summit on early childhood education on Dec. 3 at The Hartford Club. Sponsored by CBIA and The Connecticut Forum, the conference addressed the need for greater investment in pre-K programs and the benefits such an investment would bring to Connecticut's communities and its economy.

Though the correlation between early childhood education and economic development might not be immediately evident, says Judy Resnick, research clearly suggests a connection. Resnick is executive director of CBIA's Education Foundation.

"What children learn in preschool sets the stage for their later life," she says. "They develop socialization skills, visualization, language skills, early reading experiences: all those things that prepare them to be successful from kindergarten on up."

Businesses have a stake in quality early childhood education programs, she adds, "because ultimately, students coming out of our schools will be their future employees."

Building Blocks for Success

Featured presenters at the conference were Elaine Weiss, project manager, and Rob Dugger, advisory board chair, at the Pew Center for the States' Partnership for America's Economic Success, as well as Rob Grunewald, associate economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Weiss led off the summit with findings from recent research that underscore the high degree to which early experiences shape learning capacity, behavior, and brain architecture.

"It's very easy to think we cannot gain traction [for early childhood education initiatives] in a fiscal downturn," she said, pointing out, however, that coalitions of business leaders have made notable progress in several states, securing funding for pre-K programs in spite of economic challenges and budget deficits.

Economist Rob Grunewald, author of various policy papers and reports on economic research and the economic benefits of early childhood education, explained why the Fed cares about quality pre-K programs and why businesses should too: "We are interested in key ingredients of economic growth and development," he said, and quality youth human capital is a big one.

Grunewald cited a number of studies that show 7%-20% annual rates of return on investments in early childhood education, with "most benefits accrued to the public."

One such study, HighScope Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Mich., took a longitudinal approach to measuring ROI, tracking low-income students who received center-based education and home visits versus those who had not. Participants were tracked from preschool through age 40.

Those who had received early childhood intervention had higher rates of academic achievement, high school graduation, home ownership, and earnings compared with a control group. Members of the control group, on the other hand, needed more special education and social welfare services and had higher rates of crime, from misdemeanors to felonies.

On average, Grunewald said, every dollar spent on pre-K yields a $16 return.

"You don't even have to like children," he quipped, to appreciate the value of this investment.

"We Need a Revolution"_"

Rob Dugger, managing partner of Hanover Investment Group, underscored Grunewald's points with staggering statistics on the "loss of competitiveness" experienced by American businesses because of a talent deficit.

Three-quarters of Americans age 17-24, he said, are "not qualified to be U.S. Army privates" because they are not high school graduates, are not physically fit to serve, have criminal records, or have persistent drug problems. Nationwide, he said, 60% of youth ages 17-24 cannot be hired by an advanced, technologically competitive American company. In Connecticut, he added, "18% of the population is on track to be noncompetitive.

"We need a revolution in early childhood education," said Dugger, urging attendees to become advocates at partnershipforsuccess.org.

Presentations were followed by a Q&A and panel discussion that included Karen Foley Schain, executive director of the Connecticut Children's Trust Fund; David Nee, executive director of the William C. Graustein Memorial Fund, and Linda Kelly, president of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

Richard Sugarman, founding president of The Connecticut Forum, moderated.

A similar business summit on early childhood education, also sponsored by CBIA, was held earlier that morning at Fairfield University. CBIA President and CEO John Rathgeber, chair of the Governor's Early Childhood Cabinet and former member of Connecticut's Commission on Educational Achievement, offered welcoming remarks, urging the business community to advocate for quality early childhood programs and systemwide school reform. More than 100 business leaders attended the event.

Both summits were made possible with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Connecticut Department of Social Services, Connecticut Children's Trust Fund, Connecticut Economic Resource Center, and the Graustein Memorial Fund.

For updates on CBIA's education and workforce development programs, visit www.cbia.com/edf.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer-editor at CBIA. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.