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Early Childhood Education as an Essential Component of Economic Development

The economic development impact of K-12 and higher education is widely acknowledged, but the role of early childhood education is often given insufficient attention. At the basis of the role of early childhood education as an essential component of economic development lie two necessities: child care for children whose parents are in the paid labor force, and the increasing importance of well-developed cognitive and social/behavioral skills in the work force. Taken together, these necessities demands that high quality early childhood education is universally available.

Beyond its direct role in economic development, early childhood education is important as a tool to move toward greater social equity. The evidence strongly indicates that children from low-income families benefit substantially, both cognitively and socially/behaviorally, from high quality early childhood education, thus helping to close the achievement and opportunity gap between income groups.

While the goal of universal availability of early childhood education is often recognized, in the United States less than half of three- and four-year-olds were enrolled in preschool programs in the 2008-2010 period. Enrollment in the New England states varies widely, with 62% of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in Connecticut in this period, but only 42% in Maine.

This report argues that it is highly desirable and valuable to society for state governments to support universal early childhood education. In doing so, governments will be putting in place an essential component of economic development, a component that will provide both a long-run foundation for their states

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