If it makes sense in Macon

The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph had a series yesterday exploring the powerful benefits of public investments in quality early care and early education for the entire city--from reducing crime and increasing high school and college graduation rates to boosting the city's economic prospects and reducing costs to taxpayers in the long run.

The business community in Macon, once skeptical of calls for greater investment in early education, are now firm believers. 

And after seeing what other cities have been doing in this area, Macon's business leaders believe they must take the lead in advancing early learning in their community. They formed a commission on early education to gather research and listen to national economics leaders. After 18 months, the group issued a report that concluded, "The future of Georgia’s children, workforce and economic vitality is in peril if we do not act now to bring strong leadership and increase investment to increase access to high-quality child care and education.”

The CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta served as co-chair of the commission. By the end, he was sold. “It was a matter of making a case to the business community that its historical focus on K-12 needed to be extended to an earlier point in children’s development, that it is also an economic development issue.... I came to this with very little knowledge or understanding, but I’m such a convert.”

Among the research cited:

- According to the National Research Council, 90% of brain development occurs before the age of 5. Once business leaders made the connection between early brain development and an individual's ability to succeed much later in life, they started to see why it is critical to invest early--before children are failing in school.

- A slate of studies over decades summarized by the group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids shows that children with high-quality early care and education are more likely to do well in school, graduate and stay out of jail. A study in Chicago found that students who didn't participate in quality early care and education programs were 67% more likely to fail a grade, 71% more likely to be placed in special education, and 70% more like to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

- A report by Columbia University in 2004 that linked an investment in a high-quality early child care program to taxpayer savings of approximately $3,000-$9,500 per child within 10 years of starting school, mostly by decreasing the rate of students who are held back or require special education.