The voters have spoken: They support early childhood education


In November, New Mexico voters approved a constitutional amendment that will create a dedicated funding stream for early childhood education. The measure, which will increase distributions from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, is projected to infuse $150 million annually into programs for young children.

New Mexico’s ballot initiative was notable for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it garnered 70 percent support among voters. As a reference for comparison, the state’s Democratic Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, was comfortably reelected to a second term on the same day with only 52 percent of the vote. 

The major takeaway: Increased public investment in early childhood education enjoys the overwhelming support of both Democrats and Republicans.

New Mexico isn’t the only illustration of this broad bipartisan appeal. In Maryland, incoming Democratic Governor Wes Moore campaigned on the expansion of pre-kindergarten — while in Arkansas, incoming Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that she will prioritize similar investments as a cornerstone of her effort to improve third-grade literacy achievement. In the conservative south, both Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R) have recently championed the expansion of early childhood education — prioritizing investments in their executive budget requests.

In a highly polarized environment, investment in the nation’s young children may just be a political unicorn: a topic on which we virtually all agree, and for good reason.

With the benefit of brain science, we know that the early years of life represent humankind’s most critical window of development. The brain’s fundamental architecture is wired during this period, preparing children for both academic and lifelong success. Put simply, the right start matters.

On the flip side, failure to optimize young children’s experiences can have long-lasting consequences — not only for them personally, but for the nation’s taxpayers. Reductions in everything from grade level retention and special education to social service utilization and interactions with the criminal justice system have been linked to high-quality early childhood education and care.

Unfortunately, our knowledge and policy aren’t always well aligned. While states have made great progress in expanding pre-kindergarten, for example, the U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to the earliest and most pivotal years of development, particularly as related to the nation’s child care system.

Diminished for far too long as “babysitters,” science demands that the nation’s infant and toddler teachers be recognized as brain builders. But with child care wages trailing those of entry-level workers in fast food restaurants and even dog walkers, there’s little wonder that the field experiences upward of 40 percent turnover annually. At precisely the time young children most need stable and nurturing care to optimize their development and learning, we are instead providing them with a rotating cast of caretakers — often too new in their roles to have developed the requisite expertise.

As the midterm elections demonstrate, however, the climate is ripe for change. In August, The Hunt Institute hosted policymakers from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico at its 2022 Early Childhood Leadership Summit. Anyone who doubts that bipartisanship is alive and well would have been inspired by the sight of 400-plus state lawmakers, gubernatorial staff and state system leaders coming together to plan around the needs of their states’ youngest learners. Meanwhile, a dozen Republican U.S. senators have recently signed onto legislation to reauthorize the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, uplifting many of the same early childhood priorities as the Biden administration did as part of its recent Build Back Better agenda. 

These leaders know that children aren’t red or blue. They know that public investments in early childhood are good for children and families, good for employers, good for the economy, and — ultimately — good for them at the ballot box. 

The time is right to rethink our nation’s approach to the early years. New Mexico has shown us the way.

Javaid Siddiqi is the president and CEO of The Hunt Institute. 

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