by Patrick Gill and Shay Everitt, CHILDREN AT RISK

In the recently released report, Building Brains & Economies: Quality Child Care as an Engine for Economic Development in a 21st Century Texas, CHILDREN AT RISK examines how quality child care can be leveraged to drive Texas’s economy forward today and for years to come. This blog series summarizes key findings from this report. This post, two of six, summarizes the many benefits that quality early childhood education can have for children.

During the first few years of their lives, children’s brains are forming more than one million neural connections per second, laying the foundation for all future learning. Babies’ and toddlers’ brains are growing faster than at any other point in their lives, and that development slows noticeably by the time they reach kindergarten.

A baby’s interactions with his or her caregivers help build this architecture, beginning at birth. While parents are a child’s most important educators, child care teachers can also play a key role. Quality early childhood education (ECE) during the critical birth through age 3 range provides crucial developmental benefits while also supporting parents during the time when they are often most stressed and stretched for resources.

Quality ECE has been shown to contribute to many short- and long-term benefits for children who receive it, including:

  • Healthier cognitive development;
  • Higher early academic markers;
  • Higher rates of high school graduation; and
  • Lower rates of externalizing behaviors among youth, such as aggression, disobedience, and cheating.

Quality ECE also helps children develop key executive functions, including building working memory, strengthening impulse control, and developing cognitive flexibility, skills which are important to future success in both school and the workplace.

Children in Texas will benefit from greater access to quality ECE. Half of Texas’s 2.3 million children under age 6 live in low-income circumstances, and we know that children who live in poverty and aren’t reading on grade level by 3rd grade are 13 times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers. Quality ECE can address this directly: quality programs have been shown to especially help low-income and otherwise at-risk children.

Gains from quality ECE extend well beyond childhood, and can help all Texans for the rest of their lives. By 2020 more than 60% of all jobs will require education beyond high school, but currently only 30% of native Texans have an associate’s degree or higher, compared to nearly half of people who moved from elsewhere. If it does not address this shortcoming, Texas will continue to need to rely on educated workers from other sates to fill its future workforce needs.

Recent population trends should encourage state leaders to prepare for the Texas of tomorrow. Two-thirds of children under 18 in Texas are non-white, and fully half are Latino. This diversity is one of our state’s great strengths, but unfortunately only 63% of Latino adults currently have a high school diploma, compared to 93% for non-Hispanic white adults. As Texas continues to change, policymakers should explore solutions which will address this unsustainable gap and prepare all children for the future.

These opportunity gaps among racial and ethnic groups have real economic consequences, costing the United States economy anywhere from 2% to 4% in potential GDP every year. If Texas wants to remain economically competitive, it must invest in solutions that support all children and families, regardless of background. Quality ECE can help children—especially our most at-risk children—be more successful academically and help them prepare for a future career.

Increasing access to quality, affordable child care will support Texas’s families and its economy by giving all of our children the strong foundation they need.

To learn more about how Texas can help families and children, check out CHILDREN AT RISK’s full report: Building Brains & Economies: Quality Child Care as an Engine for Economic Development in a 21st Century Texas.

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To learn more about CHILDREN AT RISK’s research & policy advocacy around Early Childhood Education