Investing in Our Most Important Natural Resource

The national economy has been trudging slowly uphill since the bleak days of 2008. In Memphis, it’s been hard to see the gains in a news feed dominated by pension scandals and budget shortfalls.

Regardless of whether we are parents, we all have a stake in our community! Tweet this!

But we’ve seen signs of the right kind of local growth, with start-ups launching, new construction in neighborhoods like Overton Square and the Edge district, and mid-size companies and our homegrown global corporations swelling to record levels of employees.

With all these jobs, and the potential to maintain a steady supply of new ones, now is the time to make the right choice about investing in Memphis and Shelby County’s most important natural resource: our children.

Investments in education should begin early.

While public spending priorities are often hotly debated, when it comes to early education the evidence is clear. Dozens of studies conducted by universities, think tanks and institutes have pointed to the immediate and long-term benefits of making early childhood education a priority.

This is what the emerging science tells us about investing in educating our children: Smart children cost less and grow up to earn more.

The earliest years of life are a period of rapid brain development. Young children’s brains are creating the vital early connections that form the basis of learning how to use language and numbers, how to control their emotions, and how to get along with others.

These skills are essential parts of school readiness. Children are expected to arrive at kindergarten able to sit still and pay attention during class time, resolve conflicts with their classmates, and follow simple directions.

Investing in our youngest children can help ensure that they have nurturing and enriching early experiences, including high quality early care and educational opportunities. They contribute to children’s ability to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Investing in children boosts economic growth.

High quality early care increases school readiness and promotes achievement throughout the elementary years. In addition to helping children learn more and learn more efficiently, early education programs can provide higher tax revenues by freeing up parents and caregivers to reenter the workforce.

When children get an educational jump-start in their earliest years, they enter kindergarten ready to learn. Improved school readiness pays off quickly in a more efficient and less costly school system. Grade retention rates drop and students spend fewer years in the system. Fewer children are placed in special education classes, which cost more per student.

The city should also see savings in both criminal justice and public assistance spending. And a more educated population tends to be healthier, easing the burden on health care subsidies.

Children with high achievement graduate high school with a more robust skill set. Teen pregnancy rates drop while college enrollment climbs, and they begin their careers earning more, boosting tax coffers and raising their spending power.

This is the future everyone wants for Memphis and Shelby County. Regardless of whether we have young children at home, we all have a stake in our community. Making early education a priority is a commitment that everyone can support.