A Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community

It can be easy to idealize the early years of childhood, and use our own favorite memories to define what that period means. Recess, a favorite teacher, summer vacation, family holidays. Happiness without a care in the world.

But what if instead of building you up, your early years had held you back? What if your collection of childhood memories included images of violence and anger, isolation and neglect, hunger and darkness—the kinds of experiences that can interfere with early social and emotional development? Would your path from childhood to your life today have been the same?

It's time to make well-funded, high quality early education the standard for all! Tweet this!

Adult success is founded upon the earliest years of life.

Thousands of children are growing up in our city, each facing any number of dire challenges. These challenges are well known, and many of us work daily to address them; high rates of poverty, pervasive crime, troubling levels of unemployment, lack of access to high quality education.

Current research by the world’s top tier experts on early childhood education has shown that by 24 months of age, there are already marked differences between the abilities of kids burdened by these social and emotional risks and those of their advantaged peers, with some studies even showing a disparity within the first year of life.

Multiply this by tens of thousands. This is the face of Memphis today. How does it look to young professionals leaving college and beginning their careers? How does it look to entrepreneurs looking to set up shop in a cost-efficient community?

How does it look to big business? If a city’s population is one of its most important natural resources, how does our look next to Austin, Jacksonville, Charlotte/Mecklenburg County?

Healthy social and emotional development for children benefits us all.

A 2006 study by the RAND Corporation looked at the economics of government-funded interventions in early childhood, taking an intense look at programs designed for children aged four and younger. The results are eye-opening for anyone with a stake in and commitment to Memphis and Shelby County.

RAND’s report said well-designed programs for disadvantaged children can produce economic benefits ranging from $1.26 to $17 for each $1 spent on the programs. These high quality programs are tough to quantify, hence the huge range in dollar amounts, but taking a look at just a few benefits clearly shows how money can be saved over the long term.

These programs can keep children out of expensive special education programs. They reduce the number of students who have to repeat a grade in school, increasing the cost of public education. They’ve been shown to increase high school graduation rates and reduce juvenile crime. High quality programs reduce the number of youngsters who wind up on welfare as adults and increase the number of students who go to college.

Put simply, the social and emotional benefits of these programs mean that participating children grow up to be adults that tend to get better jobs and earn higher incomes.

It’s time to get serious about Memphis’ greatest natural resource: our workforce.

It’s time to put pressure on our elected officials, our school administrators, our church leaders and the business community. It’s time to make well-funded, high quality early education the standard for all and not a privilege for the wealthy.

Every person in Memphis should have an overflowing box of positive memories from their childhood. Early experiences are foundational for social and emotional development. Each Memphian should be able to build a solid adulthood on their sturdy childhood. Then, we can build a solid economy on our sturdy workforce.