The Promise and Payoff of Early Education - An Opportunity for Business

I had the good fortune to write an opinion piece that first appeared in the March 1 St. Louis Business Journal. Here's what I wrote, and we at SouthSide welcome you to join the conversation about the critical importance of quality early education!

The Promise and Payoff of Early Education

Every dollar spent in the care and nurture of a child means three or four dollars earned by a mother in respectable employment. This has been said before, but it needs to be said often. The child is washed, fed three times daily, and made happy and comfortable for the day. A few years of such treatment has an influence for good on future lives which cannot be overestimated. The old proverb of the gardener, “As the twig is bent, the tree is inclined,” is one that we may well write over the door of our Nursery of human lives.

Fifth Annual Report of South Side Day Nursery, 1891

Early childhood education is an efficient and effective investment for economic and workforce development. The earlier the investment, the greater the return on investment.

Nobel Prize Winner James Heckman, The Heckman Equation, 2013

The visionary women who founded South Side Day Nursery (now known as SouthSide Early Childhood Center) in 1886 were well over a century ahead of the economists and policymakers who today are directing much-needed attention to the benefits of high quality early education. They may not have called it “ROI,” but these women knew that SouthSide’s nurturing care, nutritious meals and support for working mothers would pay dividends to St. Louis for generations.

Today SouthSide and other high-quality partners in early education across the city not only nurture and feed young children from impoverished neighborhoods, we also educate them, provide critical early intervention for mental health and disabilities, and support their parents’ goals for a better job, a safe apartment, an education, or a path to safety from domestic violence. This approach not only improves children’s lives in the short term, it saves public dollars over a lifetime by reducing reliance on public assistance, reducing expenditures on special education, increasing graduation rates, reducing crime and even increasing home ownership rates. Heckman and others estimate the public return on investment in programs like ours at seven to ten percent annually.

Just as business leaders of the 19th century supported our founders’ vision – Busch, Ittner, Stifel, Cupples, Wainwright, Lemp and others – today’s CEOs believe in the promise of early education. The United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Regional Chamber are passionate advocates for early childhood programs. SouthSide’s partnerships with Ameren and its CEO Tom Voss, and St. Louis Staffing and its CEO Keith Jacob are prime examples of corporate support for quality programs. These business leaders recognize that achieving their goal of a talented, diverse workforce means supporting programs that develop the academic, social and problem solving skills of all children, regardless of their neighborhood, race or circumstances. Quality, comprehensive early childhood education does that. We encourage more corporate involvement and support for quality programs across the region, in all forms: financial, volunteer and advocacy.

St. Louis will benefit from more access to affordable, quality early childhood programs. Investment in early childhood should appeal to everyone in the business community, from the controller looking for economic efficiency and a numbers-driven investment, to the human resource manager seeing value in a diverse community of thinkers and do-ers, to the astute CEO who sees potential in a curious four-year old investigating the properties of water, planting a seed, building with blocks or working with her teacher to write her name.   

Blog, NewsCleo Fisher